The last time we saw Ondrej Pavelec play in a Thrashers’ uniform was back on December 18 at Philips Arena. He lasted but 27:57 against the Penguins that night…giving up five goals on only 13 shots in Atlanta’s 6-3 loss.
This was two short days after his 28 save on 29 shots stellar outing in Ottawa, coming just 1:19 away from his first career shutout. However, just prior to that was the forgettable night in which the Boston Bruins netted three goals on just four shots in the first 8:41 of the game against Opie. After Johan Hedberg proved to be little help in relief that night, Opie was placed back in goal. For the night, he had two saves on five SOG in 17:28 of playing time.
Pavelec’s stay in Atlanta started off just fine. He was called up from the Wolves after Kari Leghtonen went down with a bad back following the Thrashers 3-2 loss to the Rangers at the end of October. It didn’t take him long to see action, being called upon when Hedberg was lifted after allowing six goals during two periods of work in Montreal. Pavelec stopped the six shots he faced in the third, then went on to win his first two starts of the season…5-3 against Florida and 4-3 versus the Islanders. However, in the next eight games he started for the Thrashers only one resulted in a win, the one in Ottawa.
In total, Opie started ten games, played in eleven, and has a 3-6-0 record with a .884 SV% and 3.55 GAA this season. In the past two years he is 6-9-0 with a 3.38 GAA and .892 SV%.
Now that the Chicago Wolves have been eliminated from post-season contention, and Kari on the shelf once more, Dan Turple was sent back down and Pavs was recalled again with just three games left before Atlanta’s season comes to an end.
Good. I say…start Opie. Start him all three games…not just the “one or two” general manager Don Waddell has said he’ll start. Call it an early start to next fall’s training camp for him.
My reasoning for stating this is very simple. Waddell has a decision to make this summer regarding which two goalies will he and coach John Anderson go with next fall…and which one gets moved.
Leghtonen has made a strong bid to remain this team’s number one man between the pipes given his play of late. When he left the lineup after nine starts to begin the season he was 2-5-2 with a 3.45 GAA and an .899 SV%. His numbers really didn’t improve after returning in December as he won only six games in seventeen outings through the end of January. However, since the beginning of February Kari has gone 10-7-1 and has improved his saves percentage numbers to .910 and lowered his goals-against average to 3.09…which was even below three for a short time last month. Like last summer, Kari is scheduled to be an RFA and Waddell needs to decide whether to offer up another one-year deal or tie him up for a longer term. Whichever why it goes, Lehtonen should be here next season.
Hedberg has sometimes been good this season…sometimes un-good. He is the only one of the three with a winning record, 13-11-3, but his GAA is still very high, (3.51) and saves percentage is low, (.885). He’s seen action in 32 games this year and, for the most part, you know what you’re gonna get with him.
Regardless of Hedberg’s play…good or un-good. He’s not going to the team’s No. 1 man in the nets next fall. Unless Waddell has something really funky up is sleeve this summer, that job will either be Kari’s or Opie’s…and Kari has had his time to show what he can do.
That leaves Opie… who will be 22-years old in August, is signed through next season and becomes an RFA after that. In the past two seasons he has performed well right after being called up, but then seems to hit a brick wall. Honestly, based on his performance here, I’m not sold on Opie getting the full-time starting gig, at least not just yet.
What I wouldn’t mind seeing next season, however, is Kari Lehtonen starting regularly with Pavelec backing him up. That’s a pretty good duo in my mind…plus, let’s be honest here, some good ‘ol fashion compitition between the two might just be what’s needed to keep Lehts…shall we say…”focused”.
As for Hedberg, if a decent deal cannot be struck for the 36-year old back-up goalie with one season left on his contract…well, do ya think maybe he could be convinced to stick around and provide his services as the full-time goalkeeper coach for the Thrashers?