The Winnipeg Jets don't have a goaltending controversy, but there's no question they have to start Al Montoya on Wednesday in Chicago.
Monday night, in a 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, Montoya gave the Jets what they haven't been getting from Ondrej Pavelec lately -- a chance to win. He wasn't perfect and he wasn't super-busy, but on a number of occasions when momentum was up for grabs, Montoya refused to let the Wings snag it.
Timely saves are the key to winning goaltending and Montoya saved his best for when his team needed it most.
"Al was huge. Every game he's played he's given us a chance to win. He's been sharp," said veteran forward Olli Jokinen. "Guys are happy to see him get wins. He works hard in practice, never complains about his playing time and is always ready to play when he gets his chance. He made some big saves when we needed them."
The job of the modern-day goaltender isn't to steal games but rather to not lose them. Pavelec is the big-money goalie in Winnipeg and still the No. 1. But those things can't matter right now. The Jets have backed themselves into a position where they can't afford to do anything short of what gives them the best chance to win the next game. Wednesday, that'll be Montoya.
"Al has been giving us a chance to win every time he's been on," said Jokinen. "We can't worry about the next game.ÇWe have to worry about our next practice. It's always about the next day."
If Pavelec has to sit and wait his turn, what's so awful about that? Too often things in this organization, dating back to its Atlanta days, have been granted and not earned. Why is Pavelec the starter? Because his contract says so? That can't rule the day right now.
"I thought Montoya was like the rest of our team and did the right things at the right time. He made the right saves," said coach Claude Noel. "I thought he had a good night. He's played that way this year."
Noel was then asked if he would consider Montoya for the next game.
"We'll look at it and assess it and we'll consider it," said Noel.
The best coaches and organizations in the NHL have a simple rule: The best players play.
What message would it send to the rest of the Jets if Pavelec were given the net on Wednesday? Entitlement rules?
One can argue the Jets' season is soon to be decided if the losing continues. Now's not the time to worry about status and ego. Put the players who have earned the opportunity on the ice.
The Jets can't worry about who will be the starter in 10 games. Or two games for that matter. They shouldn't be looking beyond the ends of their noses right now.
Montoya rewarded the fine play of his teammates on Monday and backstopped them. They deserve a chance to build on their success. They deserve more Montoya.
Too often for the Jets since they moved back to Winnipeg it's been Pavelec or nothing. If this is the beginning of a little pressure on him, and maybe some competition, all the better.
No one on a 6-8-2 team should feel comfortable. They should all fear for their jobs.
Montoya wasn't getting into any debate about who should start the next game.
"That's the coach's decision. I just worry about what I had to do on this night," said Montoya, side-stepping a question on whether he'd like to play Wednesday.
Asked again if he'd like to play the next game, Montoya gave the exact same answer and then began to walk out of the dressing room.
But not before allowing a little smile to cross his face.
Goalie controversy? Not in my mind. There's no controversy at all.
The next net belongs to Montoya.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless