Winning in back-to-backs is difficult. Winning in back-to-backs without conceding a single goal is near impossible.
Going into weekend tilts in New York on Saturday to take on the Rangers and Chicago Sunday to take on the Blackhawks, one would have been hard-pressed to even dream up a scenario wherein the Jets walked away with consecutive blank slates. Yet, here the Jets stand, on their way back from a four-game road trip with seven of eight points thanks in large part to incredible goaltending efforts from Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson.
On Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, Pavelec was a revelation. Dogged consistently for poor play, the Jets netminder was without question the best player on the ice for either team. Of the 38 shots the Rangers put on goal, Pavelec turned aside each and every one.
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Come Sunday, it was Hutchinson’s turn to produce a little bit of magic. Against the Blackhawks, the 24-year-old was steady, making the saves he needed when tested and getting a little bit of luck from his posts. A late start on a Sunday game in the second half of a back-to-back against one of the top teams in the league and your backup goaltender pulls out a shutout? Coach Paul Maurice will take that every time.
If there is any room to be critical of the Jets – and there isn’t much – the efforts on the offensive side of the puck will need to improve going forward. While the two victories are impressive, the goaltending performances were absolutely necessary to pick up the wins. To think that can or will continue would be asinine.
Winnipeg was extremely fortunate to pull out victories in both games, especially in New York in a game that was decided in a shootout. A reliance on goaltending is all good and well for teams with proven keepers, but Winnipeg is far from that.
Though goals seems to be coming at a premium for the Jets, the positive for Winnipeg is that they haven’t been getting too rough a ride when it comes to puck possession. To be sure, they’re still not up to snuff with the elite teams in the league, but the improvement has been there and been enough to pick up a few more wins than was expected of this club.
Maybe more than anything, what has been impressive about Winnipeg’s game is their periods of consistent zonetime. Sunday’s game was a prime example of the Jets ability to really control play when their cycle game is working, as they pinned the Blackhawks in their own zone and turning the possession into several chances.
All told, the weekend will be one to remember for Jets fans. Incredible goaltending and a couple of big wins as the Jets head back home; if Pavelec and Hutchinson can continue to play at even a similar rate, the Jets may be in a position to challenge for the playoffs.