Not much gets past Ondrej Pavelec, unless he decides to put it there.
Some may have thought the story of Pavelec’s season was written just a couple minutes into his first game, when the 23-year-old suddenly dropped while standing alone outside his crease, sustaining a mild concussion in the frightening fall. Turns out that was just a bizarre precursor to a breakout campaign. Pavelec was in the top three in save percentage and goals-against average when the season passed its mid-point, despite playing on a team that was giving up more shots than everyone except Anaheim.
He earned just one win his first eight games back after the injury, then ripped off six straight victories and had a 13-4-2 record after the initial rough patch.
“It was a scary moment for me, but I was out for just two weeks, so it wasn’t that long,” said Pavelec of his collapse, which was later linked to a form of fainting spell. “I can do everything I did before and I don’t have any problems.”
Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom said whether it’s a health concern or a bad goal, Pavelec doesn’t dwell on things.
“I think that’s the biggest thing about his game, he puts things behind him,” Enstrom said. “Even if he has a bad day, he just moves on and takes it day by day.”
Not that there’s much to mope about in Atlanta right now.
“We have fun in practice, we have fun in the room,” Pavelec said. “Every night we put in a team effort and it’s so fun to play for those guys.” – By Ryan Dixon
QUICK DRAW KONOPKA
After 150 NHL games, Zenon Konopka had seven goals, 18 points, 520 penalty minutes and a minus-24 rating. But a one-dimensional fighter without the basic skill set to warrant an NHL roster spot he is not.
“Zenon’s a guy I identified years ago in the AHL,” said Islanders GM Garth Snow, who signed Konopka in July. “The thought process when we brought him in was Zenon had the ability to win faceoffs; he was one of the leaders last year in that category.”
That’s right. Konopka won 62.3 percent of his 462 appearances at the dot with Tampa Bay last season, a team-leading mark in that department. He didn’t take enough draws to qualify amongst the league leaders, but his percentage was nearly two points higher than faceoff champion Scott Nichol. And he hasn’t stopped winning draws this year, either.
Signed as an unrestricted free agent to a one-year deal, Konopka had already taken 100 more draws than last year and sat sixth in the NHL with a 58.4 winning percentage.
He’s taken the most faceoffs on his team and earned significant time on the penalty kill, something he didn’t receive last season.
“When we came across a penalty kill situation, we could give him the puck and he could be relied upon to make the right play,” Snow said.
But Konopka isn’t neglecting his bread and butter, either: His 148 penalty minutes led the NHL after topping the league in that category with 265 last season. – By Rory Boylen
These articles originally appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hockey News.