James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Dose: Is Pavelec For Real?

Friday, January 24, 2014

“Fancy stats” continue to come a long way, at least when it comes to judging skaters and what goalies have already done. Still, only the most brazen number-cruncher would argue that you can really predict what less-than-obvious goalies might do from one season to the next.


By “less-than-obvious” goalies, I mean tweeners. Fringe guys. Netminders who could just as easily swing a month (or more) of fantasy head-to-head matches in a fantasy owners’ favor or just as easily seem like goaltending nougat.


(Note: Look, I know some of us enjoy a little nougat, but in this case, I mean “filler.” Put it this way: would you rather ingest nougat instead of, say, peanut butter or something awesome? Barring a peanut allergy, preferring nougat might be grounds for terminated friendships or at least plummeting mutual respect.)


Anyway, this is a long, candy bar-centric way of saying that I think you’re full of BS if you truly believe that you can predict which goalies are going to actually enjoy consistent success beyond the obviously bad and obviously elite guys. (And let’s face it … we only know so much; I’d venture a guess that just about every Boston Bruins goalie not named Marty Turco* wouldn’t have such stellar numbers if Zdeno Chara wasn't destroying all semblance of offense for almost half a game each night.**)


The strange thing about the 2013-14 season is that even the seemingly D.O.A. goalies have been competent, if not even occasional difference-makers.


The contrarian in me wanted to give Steve Mason a chance in Philly to begin this season, even though I ultimately couldn’t until he started producing results. The contrarian, librarian, salutatorian and even veterinarian in me still couldn’t imagine a case in which Ondrej Pavelec was worth considering for anything more than “making sure you don’t lose all the goalie stats for minimum games started” reasons.


Yet here we are, pondering Pavelec in a Mason-early-in-the-season way …


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First things first, let’s delve into the reason I’m revisiting a guy I disregarded for Al Montoya not that long ago. Even with obvious neon red “small sample size” lights flashing all around like a tacky slot machine hitting a jackpot surrounding his sudden streak of success, it’s difficult to ignore the run Ondrej Pavelec has been on since Paul Maurice took over in Winnipeg.


If anything, I’m most impressed by him losing a 1-0 game against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday than most of the wins, as he was able to hang tough against one of the best teams in the league without a bunch of goal support. Here’s what he accomplished in this very specific period of time:


Note: all home games except Thursday's vs. San Jose

Jan 13: 18 out of 19 saves, win against Coyotes

Jan. 16: 20 out of 22 saves, win against Flames

Jan. 18: 20 out of 22 saves, win against Oilers

Jan. 21: 40 out of 42 saves, win against Ducks

Last night (Jan. 23): 31 out of 32 saves, loss against Sharks


As you can see, he started off arguably benefiting from strong team play against poor teams, as the Coyotes were the best team of the first three game and they're a) traditionally (though not always this season) pathetic offensively and b) a mess this season, but finished with convincing enough performances to get him on the radar.


Unless you're going to be really exhaustive about this thing - and many people will be, because it's the Internet - the Ducks probably rank as a strong team as of this writing. Getting a win against them after facing a ton of shots is impressive. And, again, even losing to the Sharks in such a tight contest also raises eyebrows.




Still, judging by one of life’s greatest doctrines (“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,”), the question is: how many times has he lured us in before? I decided to back to 2010-11 to see some of his best streaks*** to find out.


Click here for the rather spartan spreadsheet.


To start, Pavelec has enjoyed one other strong run this season (the spreadsheet starts from last season): the month of November in general, when he posted a very un-Pavelecian .926 save percentage.


It's easy to isolate the run that pumped his numbers up: he won four games in a row, getting a shutout, allowing four goals and then two straight two-goal games from Nov. 8 - 15.


The funny thing about Pavelec is that an early, pre-stat-crunching thought I had about him still lingers: he almost looks like an NHL goalie at home, but that's about it. His 2013-14 highs back that up; his expired four-game winning streak including three of four at home and the same three-for-four run happened in that lucrative Winnipeg run.


But what about before that? Let me glance at his best runs from other seasons, which will occasionally mean picking through haystacks for needles of non-nougaty-goodness.****




Feb. 24 - March 19: Pavelec won six of seven games in this span, allowing four goals twice, three goals once and two or less in the rest of that span. The most impressive thing (at least from the "he might only be competent at home" narrative) is that half of those games on the road and half were at home.




Hate to be a skeptic/cynic, but Pavelec's most robust run ODDLY came when he was fighting for a contract extension he (in my opinion) didn't deserve. Anyway, this represents his most complicated run of this study, so hang in there. I'll break it up and then break it down.


Jan. 31 - Feb. 9, 2012: Four of five wins, allowing one goal in three games and three tallies in the one loss.


Feb. 11 - 21: Things get hairy as Pavelec loses three of five. Only two of the losses were ugly, (eight goals allowed in one, five in another).


Feb. 23: Four wins in seven games, allowing five goals twice, three twice and two or less in the remainder.


Jan. 31 - Feb. 23: 10 out of 17 wins. Jeez, not as good as I thought but, uh, *cough*


If that wasn’t impressive (and looking deeper … eh), he had a three-game winning streak here or there. Yeesh.




OK, here's a good one ... and so current! (OK, sorry.)


From Nov. 19 to Dec. 6, 2010, Atlanta Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec won eight of nine games, giving up three goals once and no more than two in any game during the rest of that span. Huzzah.




OK, so I broke my promise of being totally fair to Pavelec. As happy as I am for the guy who overcame a very scary faint years ago, it’s difficult to be too open-minded regarding a goalie who got his big extension by duping a dopey front office in panicking about his possible KHL departure (when you throw in legal issues the Jets were unaware about before the extension, it only gets more icky). I need more evidence that he's even above average to contain the snark.


Still, if you’ve followed the Dose this season, you know that I’m pretty forgiving about goaltending gambling, at least if you drop a replacement-level skater instead of a crucial netminder for such a gamble.


I hold Pavelec in low regard, but I held/hold Steve Mason in low regard and still recommended him as a why-the-blank-not option pretty quickly.


So, that’s the basic bit of advice: give Pavelec a try if you’re desperate. Paul Maurice will squeeze whatever he can out of this team to secure a job, and Pavelec is responding to the culture change in the short term.


Will he do so in the long term? I doubt it, but unless you’re in a keeper league, the long-term means only so much. So give him a shot, if it makes sense (i.e., better options like Mason aren’t available).


Just be equally ready to dump him without remorse … something the Jets should have done rather than handing him a ruinous extension.


Click here for a full list of injuries and suspensions.


* - Yes, he was there. Sure, that tenure basically cemented the end of his netminding career, yet he was there.


** - Remember Manny Fernandez?


*** - I stopped at 2010-11 out of fear of exceeding my maximum allotment for caring about Ondrej Pavelec.


**** - The Three Musketeers people are going to be upset with me if I keep bashing nougat.

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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