It’s probably not time to panic just yet, but there has to be some concern about whether or not Michael Hutchinson can really carry the load for the Winnipeg Jets.
Hutchinson, who has dropped both preseason contests he’s suited up for, has allowed six goals in just a shade less than 90 minutes in goal. The heir-apparent to the throne – if you can call it that – of the Jets much-maligned current starting goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, Hutchinson is going to be a key cog for the Jets this season, and if he’s not performing to the best of his ability, it might be a long, long season for the Winnipeg faithful.
In relief appearances last season, Hutchinson stole the show, making it seem like it was all but certain that, come game one of the 2014-15 campaign, he would be the starter. Now, after two appearances, it looks like the 24-year-old Hutchinson may still need a bit of seasoning.
It hasn’t just been the play of Hutchinson that leaves some question marks, however. In what has been a rather odd choice by Jets bench boss Paul Maurice, Jets fans have yet to see Connor Hellebuyck.
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Last season, Hellebuyck became the first-ever recipient of the Mike Richter Award winner for top goaltender in the NCAA, but the UMass-Lowell product hasn’t seen a single minute of preseason action thus far. Whether it be a small, unreported injury or simply the coach’s choice, it’s a head-scratcher.
Though Hellebuyck is almost certainly destined to start the season in the American League and take his lumps with the Ice Caps, it would make sense for the youngster to get some minutes facing something that is close to NHL competition. Last night, after Hutchinson had surrendered three goals midway through the game, may have been the best time for him to log some minutes. Many, including NHL.com’s Jets reporter Patrick Williams, pointed out the odd decision to not even dress Hellebuyck.
In the five seasons Pavelec has suited up regularly in the NHL, he’s yet to post a save percentage higher than .914 and, if the Jets are to make a serious run at the playoffs, he’s going to need to pull that off again. His numbers last season, which have not gone underreported, were abysmal. His .901 SV% was one of the worst among starting goaltenders. While no one player can be faulted for a team’s collapse, the Jets simply needed him to be better last season. And it’s possible “better” isn’t even the right word – it might be more apt to say the Jets just needed him to be more consistent.
In the span of single games, Pavelec would go from breathtaking save to face-palming mistake. While, yes, he did face the 14th most shots last season, the goaltenders ahead of him in that category included Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, and Ryan Miller, all of which posted better SV%. In fact, not a single goaltender who saw higher shot totals as Pavelec finished with a lower SV% than .911, and that was Ottawa’s Craig Anderson.
While there’s continued debate over how important goaltending is in the league right now – especially with the Chicago Blackhawks knocking on the door with Corey Crawford at the helm – it’s a position that will be of paramount importance for a team that is already lacking on the back end.
As such, as the preseason begins to wind down, it’s going to become more and more important that the Jets find some semblance of steady goaltending. Be it from Pavelec, Hutchinson, or even Hellebuyck, this team will go as far as its goaltending can carry it, and it’s become clear that Pavelec cannot carry them much further.