For most of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise history, the goal position has been like a punchline to a bad joke--not really very funny. The team's defense has also been rather porous and the goaltending was unable to stem the tide. That has all changed this season and suddenly the Thrashers have some of the best goaltending in the National Hockey League.
How Many Ways Can I Praise You?
Heading into this season I was a firm advocate of trading Johan Hedberg and going with a one-two tandem of Lehtonen and Pavelec. Heck I was even in favor of keeping Legace over Hedberg. Now I have nothing against Hedberg as a person--by all accounts he is a terrrific human being. But for two seasons in a row Hedberg ranked near the very bottom of all NHL goaltenders in SV% (the best metric for goalies in my view).
Suddenly at age 36 Johan Hedberg is having the best season of his entire NHL career. He currently sits tied for 2nd overall in SV% (.920) and he sports a sparkling 2.24 GAA. The Moose appears to have found the Fountain of Youth! To be honest, such a renaissance at his age is very surprising--I can't explain it, but I'll gladly accept it. Even better it appears to me that he has a great relationship with rookie Ondrej Pavalec and appears to be helping the young goalie maintain an elite level in the world's toughest hockey league.
What can you say about Ondrej Pavelec? In his previous NHL stints he showed both great promise but also a tendency to over-play pucks which left him vulnerable to easy put-back shots off of rebounds. Pavelec continues to make acrobatic saves and moves, but he looks much calmer in net. I don't know if credit should go to Pavelec, or Coach Weekes, or Hedberg (perhaps a share to all three). To my eyes, Pavelec appears to be a much better goalie in November than he was in October or in previous NHL appearances.
I play a little defense on the ice myself and when defensemen trust their goalie they play one way and when they lack trust they play a different way--the Thrashers defensemen have a lot of trust in Pavelec. They also recognize that he sometimes needs help on goal mouth rebound situations and the D have been very good about covering the far post--I suspect that this is something the coaching staff has stressed. Pavelec and the defense appear to have a good relationship with each other--as opposed to Lehtonen who would sometimes throw tantrums when he was screened or had pucks tipped on him. Pavelec rarely shows irritation with his skaters and they show a lot of confidence in him--it is a subtle thing but it matters.