So, how about them Winnipeg Jets?
After starting the season 1-4 -- prompting an irate Paul Maurice to drop an f-bomb on a reporter -- the Jets have caught fire, going 4-0-1 over their last five while turning into something of a brick wall defensively.
On Saturday in New York, Ondrej Pavelec stopped all 38 shots faced in a 1-0 shootout win over the Rangers for his first shutout of the season. The next day, backup Michael Hutchinson recorded his first clean sheet of the season, a 33-save blanking of the Blackhawks in Chicago (Winnipeg won again, 1-0).
“We’ve really jelled together as a team on the road,” Hutchinson said, per Global News. “I think it shows on the ice.
“We’re really committed to team defense. It’s unfortunate we haven’t scored a lot of goals, but we’re still able to get points, which is the main thing.”
While it’s true the Jets aren’t scoring much -- just 1.75 goals per game, third-fewest in the NHL -- they deserve plenty of credit for marked improvements defensively. Specifically, in goal.
Pavelec was under fire for his poor play last season and acknowledged as much coming into ’14-15.
“I wasn’t happy last year with the way I played,” Pavelec said back in September, per the Winnipeg Sun. “It’s no secret.”
The 27-year-old Czech has to be pleased with how things have gone lately. Even prior to the Rangers game, Pavelec was putting forth solid performances:
--Oct. 30: stops 27 of 28 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils.
-- Oct 26: stops 22 of 23 shots in a 2-1 OT win over the Avalanche.
-- Oct. 21: stops 21 of 22 shots in a 3-1 win over the ‘Canes.
It goes to show how vital good goaltending can be. If Pavelec (and Hutchinson) aren’t playing this well, the header of this story is probably about Maurice being on the hot seat. Good netminding has also overshadowed the fact an issue that plagued Winnipeg last season -- putting pucks in the net -- is still prevalent; the Jets were a middle-of-the-road team in terms of goal production, but struggled on the power play (15.1 percent, 25th in the league) and scoring away from home (just 99 road goals last year, 19th in the NHL.)
Nevermind that now, though. The Jets are winning games and there are some positive vibes coming from Maurice as the Jets are finally playing the grinding, stifling style of play he wanted to implement.
“We’ve given up one goal in our last eight or nine periods now, 10 going back to the third period on the Island,” Maurice explained, per the Winnipeg Free Press. “Good goaltending and lots of sacrifice in front of it.”