Jets goaltender Pavelec prepared for first NHL start of the season

Pavelec still feels right at home with Jets

WINNIPEG — It’s been months since Ondrej Pavelec sat in the Winnipeg Jets dressing room, but he felt right at home on Tuesday.

The veteran goaltender was in net at Winnipeg’s practice after being recalled from the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose for the first time since being sent down after the NHL club’s training camp.

“I parked the car in a different spot (before practice), but I walked through the dressing room in the same way like with the Moose. But instead of turning right, I turned left,” Pavelec said with a smile.

“It feels the same. Of course, I wasn’t in the locker-room for a long time, but it feels pretty good and I’m looking forward to staying as long as I can.”

Head coach Paul Maurice said Pavelec will start Wednesday when the Jets (20-23-4) host the Arizona Coyotes (13-24-6) and try to halt a four-game winless skid.

“It’s never off the radar so it’s not just the last few days,” Maurice said of the recall. “Ondrej’s game has started slow and has really improved, and we’ve struggled in our net and we’ve got to win hockey games.”

Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson will have the opportunity for extra practice now, but Maurice said he didn’t know how long the team would carry three netminders.

“We’re not doing this as a long-term plan … but nothing’s set in stone,” said Maurice, whose club begins a four-game homestand against the Coyotes. “I want to see (Pavelec Wednesday). I want to see only one of them.”

Pavelec is in the final year of a one-way contract paying him US$4.75 million this season.

The Jets had placed the 29-year-old on waivers Oct. 10 after deciding to go with the tandem of sophomore Hellebuyck (16-13-1) and third-year Hutchinson (4-10-3).

Pavelec has played 371 NHL games over nine seasons with the franchise, but only got into 18 games with the Moose after prospect Eric Comrie got the bulk of the work.

The native of the Czech Republic posted a 8-7-2 record with a .917 save percentage and 2.78 goals-against average, and backstopped the Moose to a 4-1 win over the Chicago Wolves Sunday with a 43-save performance.

Hellebuyck said Pavelec’s return could hinder him a little bit, but it’s not going to set him back and he likes where his game is at right now.

All the players “have more to give” he said, adding Pavelec’s return could be motivating.

“You guys can point your fingers at us and say, ‘You guys need to be better’ and that’s OK because we’re going to be better and we’re going to work even harder now,” Hellebuyck said.

“If this is the push that we needed, it’s definitely a pretty big push.”

Both he and Hutchinson said they have good relationships with Pavelec and it’s all about what’s best for the team.

“For them to make a move like this, it’s not super surprising,” Hutchinson said. “Helley and I are just going to take it as a positive right now.

“Pavs is a good guy and he’s a good goalie and hopefully he can help us win some games. At the same time, it gives Helley and I a little bit of time to work more (with their goalie coach) and really assess our game and get back to feeling where we should.”

Alternate captain Mark Scheifele viewed Pavelec’s recall as a message to the team that’s been outscored 19-11 in the past four losses (0-3-1).

“One hundred per cent,” Scheifele said. “We have to be better in front of our goaltenders.

“It’s not on our goaltenders, it’s not on our defence, it’s not on our forwards. It’s on everyone. You have to have good team defence to win games.”

The Jets also announced Tuesday defenceman Ben Chiarot was put on the injured-reserve list after he suffered an upper-body injury on Jan. 11.

Judy Owen, The Canadian Press

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