The Winnipeg Jets are riding high with a 3-1 record so far in their longest road trip of the season, which brings the question are they lucky or are they good?
Well, let’s put it this way: They are lucky they have Ondrej Pavelec. Without him in goal, two of those three wins would not have happened despite the Jets’ good fortune at the other end of the ice. Now the 5-6-1 Jets are marching toward .500 despite a growing injured list.
“I’m not a big luck guy. I think you create your own,” Jets head coach Claude Noel said as they prepared for Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils. “I would put luck, if you wanted to talk that, more in the specifics of fine play. Pavelec’s really been a big factor in that in two ways.
“His play has been so good for us. When your goalie steps up and really plays your team gets confident. He helps in building that and then it works together. That chemistry helps your team.”
The funny thing is, there were a few moments where it could all have turned the other way.
First, there was the first game of the trip in Philadelphia when the Jets kept losing leads on the Flyers because Pavelec was lit up for seven goals and had to be pulled. But they still won the game 8-7 and he bounced back two nights later against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Jets lost that game 1-0 but Pavelec played well, which restored his confidence and he beat the Florida Panthers in the next game.
Next was a moment late in Thursday’s 3-0 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Jets were clinging to a 1-0 lead thanks to Pavelec with the Islanders storming their net. Jets centre Nik Antropov fired a clearing attempt right at his own net but Pavelec made a great save, the puck was turned back up the ice and the Jets scored an insurance goal when an Islander defenceman deflected the puck into his own net.
“It’s easy to say put it behind you but it’s not,” Pavelec said of his bad night in Philadelphia. “The next day it’s still in your head: You let in seven goals. But we played another game in Tampa right away and that’s important. You have no time to think about it.
“I was really nervous before that game. It was tough to come back but it was a one-goal game. We lost but for me it was big to be back the next game and make some saves, to show myself I can still stop the puck.”
Pavelec’s work also boosted the penalty-killing unit, which was among the league’s worst until it posted a perfect 3-for-3 night against the Islanders. “A big celebration for the coaches,” Noel said.
However, the Jets have to deal with more injuries. Defenceman Randy Jones has a sore ankle after blocking a shot on Thursday and Antropov is nursing a sore hand from doing the same. Antropov finished the game but Noel said he doesn’t know if he or Jones will be able to play on Saturday.
The St. John’s IceCaps, the Jets’ American Hockey League farm team, played in Hartford on Friday which makes promoting a player easier. It seems more likely Jones will not be able to play which means a defenceman could be called up on Saturday. It was hoped injured Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey would be ready but his recovery stalled and he may be lost for the rest of the trip.