Ondrej Pavelec’s Slow Road To Consistency
If you want to start an argument with a Winnipeg Jets fan, just bring up the name Ondrej Pavelec. The level of contempt for their starting goaltender is unbelievable. Despite having a career year in 2014-2015, fans still want to drive him and his $3.9M cap hit out of town.
What’s so excruciatingly frustrating about Pavelec is not that he is a terrible goaltender, it’s the lack of consistency that has plagued him throughout his career. Although he may look like a terrible goaltender at times and on certain plays, it’s the tantalizing games when he is unbeatable that make it such a big deal.
Being inconsistent isn’t just a label for Pavelec, it’s a fact.
How else could you explain a goaltender that had four shutouts in 2011-2012, his first season in Winnipeg, but also had a .906 save percentage and -14.96 goals saved above average over the course of the whole season?
How else could you explain a goaltender that had an almost-league-worst and career-worst -21.34 GSAA in 2013-2014 (likely costing his team a playoff spot), then a career-best +7.48 GSAA the very next season?
Well, there may actually be an answer to that second question.
Over the last year and a half there has been a change in Pavelec. He used to be an over-aggressive goaltender that was consistently putting himself in situations that would cause him to make sprawling and phenomenal saves. He has made a concerted effort to quietly reel himself back into the net, and approaches sharp angle situations and plays behind the net much more conservatively.
Let me show you what I mean.
Over-committing on dead angle plays has been a big thorn in his side for years. Here’s a clip from 2013 showing how he tends to lock in on the shooter, ignoring any possibility of a back-door play.
While the overlap technique can work in a lot of situations, its’ effectiveness is limited when the shooter has an option in the middle of the ice. Goalies need to be aware of that back door threat, and have to set themselves up into a position where they can recover. He has worked at it and steadily improved, but every once in a while it will sneak back into his game and he will get burned – including during last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
One of the reasons why Pavelec has a habit of doing this is because up until 2014, he had no concept of reverse-VH on his glove hand side. He would sometimes instinctively use it on his blocker side, but it would always be paddle-down. He also never used his posts to push off and recover, which is a very basic core concept of reverse-VH in the first place.
Instead, Pavelec would abuse the traditional VH technique whenever he could. The lower the shooter got in the zone on his glove hand side, the better chance he would instinctively drop into VH.
Take a look at three pre-2014 examples of how Pavelec was being burned by his overuse of the VH technique.
One of those plays resulted in a goal, and the other two left extremely dangerous rebounds in front of the crease, and Pavelec ended up on his backside. He is so unbalanced that he is literally clutching the post with his glove hand so that he can stay upright.
That’s why VH technique simply cannot be used on jam plays at the side of the net. Good shooters will coax goaltenders into VH, then immediately drive to the net when they see them drop down. The “book” was definitely out on Pavelec.
So what does he do when shooters are on dead angles now? He’s still learning and improving, but he has added reverse-VH to his arsenal. He looks like a completely different goaltender.
Despite also having the label of being a lazy goaltender at times, Pavelec is actually one of the better goaltenders in the league at remaining active in reverse-VH. He doesn’t stay in the position for too long, as some goalies like to “hang out” in reverse-VH and get caught when the shooter carries it high. His back edge is almost always dug into the ice to create a hinge on the post, and his hands aren’t locked against his pad. He’s come a long way in only a year and a half.
Pavelec is starting to learn that a solid (and slightly more conservative) technical foundation will give him the consistency that he desires. He can still excel with his athleticism, but he is learning to use it less. He’s not putting himself in many scenarios when he is forced to use it anymore.
Now that he is instinctively using reverse-VH, he’s incorporating it into those desperation moves that he is known for. The difference this time? Look where the rebound goes on that chance. It drops down at the side of the net, right in front of him. Not into the crease causing a scramble. Not into the slot causing him to dive back the other way. That is what progress looks like.
“Post integration” is one of those terms that goalie coaches use that can be confusing to some people. A basic explanation is quite simple; It’s how a goaltender uses their posts to their advantage by incorporating it into their movement patterns in the crease.
A lot of goaltenders “fight” their posts, and set up awkwardly when they are up against them. Pavelec used to be one of them. He has worked at being able to push off and use the net in order to adjust his body position, and he is now making difficult saves look easy.
Imagine that. Pavelec, a guy that has forever been known as a goaltender that makes easy saves look difficult, is now making difficult saves look easy.
As you can see from that example, he uses boot-in-post reverse-VH to get the push off the inside of the net rather than blade-on-post and pushing off the post. That’s what he’s comfortable with, and it appears to be working for him.
With all of this being said, Pavelec is far from the perfect goaltender. His improvements in these areas have been combined with the fact that the Winnipeg Jets are giving up fewer opportunities in front of him, and that he is only 28 years old. He’s expected to put up the best numbers of his career during this time.
He still has a tendency to pull off the puck, rather than track down on it. You can tell he still enjoys making flashy saves, and sometimes that mindset can cost him.
Like on Friday night, for example.
It seemed like he was in good position to make a save on that shot. It was a clean wrister that beat him on the glove side. So what happened?
First off, this was an NHL-calibre shot, so we’ll give Pavelec the tiniest bit of slack for misplaying it. Despite that, his fatal flaw can be pinpointed to the fact that he pulls off the puck, rather than track down into it.
In the first frame, it’s pretty clear where the shooter wants to place the shot if you look at the blade of his stick – glove hand, top corner. Instead of keeping his hands out front and closing down on the shot, Pavelec drops his right knee first, drops his glove hand, and begins to pull away from the spot that the puck is about to travel through. The only chance he has is to wave at the puck as it zooms past him into the net.
Again, it was a great shot, but there are things that could have been done to prevent it, and NHL-calibre goaltenders are expected to make saves on NHL-calibre shots.
There’s no doubt that working with Wade Flaherty has helped along Pavelec’s game tremendously, but it’s looking as if he will never turn into the top-tier goaltender that many were predicting him to when he first broke into the league.
The funny thing is, that’s fine. Being a serviceable, consistent goaltender in the NHL isn’t easy. If Pavelec can keep up this play, he can still be well worth the money that he is making. If he plays like this for two more seasons, and the Jets let him walk after his contract expires, that is probably the ideal situation for both parties. 2013-2014 may have been a disaster, but he can still have a positive influence on the franchise, and be the guy to help usher in the new wave of goalies as Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie steadily rise up the depth chart.
It took a lot of hard work and willingness to accept change to become the goaltender that we have seen over the last year and a half, and Pavelec deserves more credit for that than he is getting.