WINNIPEG - Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec was able to sum up the recent performance of the defensive players in front of him in one word.
Three games, three third-period clampdowns, three consecutive one-goal wins.
Fearless shotblocking, limited turnovers and responsible play in the defensive zone.
It all adds up to a formula for success for a team that was one of the worst defensively in the NHL until recently, but has allowed just three goals against in the last three games.
“The whole team is playing really well defensively,” Pavelec said Wednesday, a day after the Jets upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins 2-1 at MTS Centre.
“We’ve gotten better as a team. We stick with the plan, we manage the game really well and I feel very comfortable with the guys in front of me. If you’re going to be great defensively, you can beat anybody.”
The Jets have improved to 12-11-4 overall and are close to moving into one of the top-8 spots in the Eastern Conference standings.
They gave up 40 shots against the Bruins, just 25 against the New Jersey Devils in a 4-2 (empty-netter) win Saturday and 33 in a 1-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes last Thursday.
“Not too many scoring chances,” Pavelec said.”Last game was 40 shots but a lot of shots from outside. That’s the guys doing a great job.”
Pavelec is being a bit modest. The goaltender has been the Jets best player over the last few games and were it not for his heroics Tuesday night, the Bruins could have had four or five goals.
But there has been a noticeable improvement in the team’s overall defensive play, from winning key faceoffs to pinning opponents in their own zone to taking fewer undisciplined penalties, to effective penalty killing.
“Just smarter plays,” Jets forward Jim Slater said. “If we’re up by a goal or two goals, obviously we don’t want to sit back, but it’s just managing the game, managing the clock and getting pucks in deep and trying to wear down their D-men and keep the pressure on them in the offensive zone.”
A week ago, after the Jets lost 6-4 to the Ottawa Senators, Pavelec’s goals against average was 3.29. Today, it’s 2.99, a significant jump which can be credited to his stellar play and the team’s newfound attention to defensive detail.
“There’s nothing that’s been reinvented, it’s just more conscientious effort to do the right things,” Jets coach Claude Noel said. “Managing the puck, controlling blue-lines, getting it in, getting it out, not making turnovers, not making risky plays. We’re not changing anything but there’s a concept that the players understand and they know what we want to do.”
One big part of the Jets success has been their ability and willingness to block shots, which could lead to an ice pack shortage in the dressing room with all the pain being inflicted by opposition slappers.
“Every game it’s like that,” said Pavelec, whose teammates blocked more than 20 shots Tuesday. “The guys do a great job. It’s not easy to block the shots. If they don’t block the shots, they let me see the puck, so I feel very confident.”
It should be pointed out that the Jets defence has improved consistently this season despite playing without regulars Ron Hainsey, Toby Enstrom and Randy Jones for most the season. AHL callups Mark Flood and Arturs Kulda have been stellar replacements, while veterans Mark Stuart, Zach Bogosian, Johhny Oduya and Dustin Byfuglien are embracing a more simplified concept.
“It’s a team thing,” Oduya said. “The way the team plays defence is a lot better now than it was in the beginning of the year.It starts with Pav on the back end. He’s been tremendous the last 10 games or so and that kind of builds confidence for us.”
Sounds like that’s mutual.