WINNIPEG – His confidence took a beating last season but Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec says it’s time to turn the page, get his mojo back and strengthen his game for the upcoming season.
“It’s huge,” Pavelec said of the importance of confidence to an NHL goalie. “When you have confidence you feel like the game is so slow and the puck is bigger.
“When you don’t feel confident, the puck is so small.”
Pavelec hit the ice for the first time Friday with the veterans and young prospects at the Jets camp. It opened at the club’s practice arena before a packed gathering.
This is a critical season for the Jets as they look to show some progress. It’s nothing new for Pavelec to hear that many hockey pundits consider it to be an important campaign for the 27-year-old Czech netminder as well.
Pavelec’s numbers were among the league’s worst last season. He allowed the most goals and was tied with former New Jersey Devil Martin Brodeur for the worst save percentage among players to appear in 39 games or more.
But Jets coach Paul Maurice says the entire team must play better defensive hockey before anyone can fairly assess its netminder.
Pavelec says he avoids reading newspapers and watching TV and wants put last season to rest.
“There’s nothing really you can do about it right now,” Pavelec said. “I tried to have a good summer, come here in good shape and start again.
“I put everything behind me and now it’s a new start.”
Pavelec certainly looks leaner than he did in his last three seasons in Winnipeg although he won’t say how much weight he has lost.
The Jets finished 22nd in the NHL standings last season just over the .500 mark. A five-game losing streak after Christmas cost head coach Claude Noel his job.
Things improved under Maurice but not enough to gain ground in the tough Central Division, where the Jets were moved to when the franchise relocated from Atlanta to Winnipeg. They finished last in the Central with 84 points.
Captain Andrew Ladd says the Jets played through adversity last year and are ready to take their game to another level as they attempt to reach the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.
“I think that got everybody excited about the potential of what we can do when we play the right way,” he said. “I feel that excitement coming into camp that we can take this to the next level.”
Many young prospects, like top draft pick Nik Ehlers, are trying to crack the roster this season. But at age 18, Ehlers knows he needs to add some muscle.
“I’m not the guy who goes in and gives big hits,” said the speedy five-foot-11, 165-pound forward. “I’ve never been that guy and I’m not going to change that.
“But I want to get in there and be physical to. It’s the NHL and everybody has to be strong. Everybody has to be strong along the boards and I obviously try to get better at that. We’ll see what happens.”
Ehlers and other young players like defenceman Josh Morrissey and forward Adam Lowry won’t have to wait long for some competition. The first exhibition game is Monday at home against the Minnesota Wild.
Maurice wants to see if the young players are ready.
“I have no aversion to youth playing,” he said. “If a player can come in and play in a meaningful way then his age has nothing to do with it.”
But Maurice said if they’re not, they shouldn’t be in the NHL, adding it will do neither the team nor the player any good to rush things.
The 2014 Jets look pretty much like last year’s team, with the biggest changes being the addition of Mathieu Perreault and departure of Olli Jokinen. The centres had the same point totals last year, although Perreault played fewer games and is almost 10 years younger.
Perreault is looking forward to getting time on Winnipeg’s power-play units, something that didn’t happen with either the Anaheim Ducks or Washington Capitals.
“Other than that, I think my role is going to be pretty similar, like third-line (or) second-line centre,” he said. “If there’s injuries I can always step up and play a bigger role.”