At some point, Gary Shuchuk is probably going to have some difficult goalie decisions to make.
The Janesville Jets head coach might have to once again make a nightly choice on which netminder he should start.
That hasn’t been a problem recently for the Jets, who host the Springfield Jr. Blues in a two-game series at the Janesville Ice Arena beginning at 7 p.m. tonight.
Both Garrett Nieto and Daniel Lebedeff rank among the top goalies in the North American Hockey League. But they’ve rarely, if ever, both been 100 percent healthy during the past few months.
“It’s been kind of weird, because they’ve both been hurt at different times,” Shuchuk said. “So when they get their chance to run with it, they’ve kind of taken over, and the team kind of responds.”
Nieto ranks sixth in the league in goals against average (2.12) and eighth in save percentage (.928). He boasts an 11-3-0-0 record and backstopped the Jets to a sweep at Springfield last weekend, including posting a shutout Friday night.
Lebedeff, who is committed to play for Wisconsin, boasts a 2.52 goals against average and .920 save percentage. He’s won four straight starts, running his record to 10-5-0-2, including a shutout of the Minnesota Magicians on Dec. 29.
“Obviously you don’t want to see either of us go down, but when we do go down, we’re lucky enough to have two guys—Daniel and I—just step up and take it until the other guy comes back,” Nieto said. “Luckily enough, we haven’t had a situation where Daniel and I have been down at the same time. We’ve been pretty fortunate.”
Nieto said there were two weekends in December where he and Lebedeff were healthy, but before that, one of them had been banged up every series since October.
Nieto said he and Lebedeff have a great relationship, so neither will mind if they can both get, and stay, healthy and share time.
“We hang out a lot off the ice, and on the ice we both like to joke around with each other,” Nieto said. “You need a healthy goaltending competition. If you’re both supportive of each other, you’ll both have success, and that’s what we’ve had so far.”
The Jets’ defense seems to be playing as strong as it has all season, regardless of who is in net.
Janesville has allowed just 11 goals in its last seven games, winning six of them. The back-to-back shutouts helped the Jets hold opponents without a goal for more than 130 minutes before Springfield got on the board in a 3-2 Janesville win Saturday.
“The shutouts we had recently were basically from a good team effort,” Shuchuk said. “Good team defense, taking care of the puck. The biggest thing lately is that our penalty kill is doing real well. That was an Achilles heel there for a while.”
Asked Wednesday if both goalies are healthy now, Shuchuk said, “They’re getting there, sort of, for the most part.
“I want to make sure that when the goalies are back there, they’re fully 100 percent,” he added. “They don’t mind the splitting (time) part of it, but both injuries they had, we have to make sure they don’t get them back again.”
Got the Blues
The Jets and Jr. Blues will play on back-to-back weekends, a quirk in the schedule. They also played a game Dec. 9 and will meet again Jan. 27, so they certainly know each other well.
“You know their systems, you know how they’re going to play, so you don’t have to sift through a lot of Xs and Os, you just have to execute,” Shuchuk said. “Nothing is going to be a surprise.”
The division rivals will meet for the 80th time overall Saturday night. Janesville boasts a 50-23-2-3 all-time record against Springfield.
Speaking of Springfield ties...
Nieto relished the chance to sweep Springfield last week. He spent about two months with the Jr. Blues last year, going 1-2 in three games.
“The coach from last year isn’t there. ... If he was there, it would’ve been even sweeter,” Nieto said. “But there’s really no game plan changes (when you face a team so frequently in a short span), you just need to stay focused.”
Vincent rejoins Jets
Forward Jack Vincent, who played 20 games with the Jets last year, is returning to Janesville.
Vincent, the son of former Badger Ron Vincent, had been playing for the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Hockey League.
“He’s trying to find the right fit,” Shuchuk said. “But the guys in the locker room like him. ... I’ve known the Vincent family forever, through UW.”