TAMPA, FLA — Al Montoya has said all the right things from the day he first signed with the Winnipeg Jets.
He has openly deferred to Ondrej Pavelec, calling it his team and saying it was his job to step in and give the franchise’s No. 1 puck stopper a breather once in awhile. But while doing that the well-spoken Chicago native has quietly done his job on the ice and, in the process, essentially revived his career.
Montoya was solid in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, kicking out 28 of the 29 shots he faced. He also improved his record to 4-2-1 with a .922 save percentage and 2.23 goals against average.
Those numbers, it should be pointed out, are all superior to Pavelec’s (10-11-3/2.76/.914), who has been solid of late but was given Saturday off after a so-so effort in Thursday’s loss to the Florida Panthers.
"I thought Montoya played really strong," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "Those can be tough games to be in. At one point, he only had (faced) eight shots and we had 22. We could feel it on the bench, even late in the second period, that we’ve got to make this more difficult for them because the more we let them hang around... sure enough, they scored.
"But Montoya battled back hard. That would have been a tough thing on his shoulders (if the Lightning had scored in OT). I thought he played well. He got a little fortunate in the overtime or miscalculated and they (Alex Killorn) fired one off the inside of the post when he lost his stick. We came back and scored. It turned into a good break for us. We’ve had that happen to us more times than once."
Yes, in a battle of the back-ups — the Lightning rested Ben Bishop for Anders Lindback — it was Montoya who exited with a win in what was an outstanding goaltenders’ duel.
"You know they can go either way on any given night," said Montoya. "To be on the (right) end of that feels great. You work hard for that... but the other guy did, too. The team really worked hard in front of me."
TREADING WATER: The Lightning fell to 17-11-1 with the loss, but are a decent 5-6-1 without superstar sniper Steven Stamkos and an injury-ravaged lineup. First-year head coach Jon Cooper is drawing rave reviews for his work with this squad and the buy-in from everybody on board.
"It helps that we started three years ago in the minors and, fortunately, a lot of these guys have made our team," said Cooper, who coached the Lighting’s AHL affiliate Norfolk Admirals to a Calder Cup championship before replacing Guy Boucher last March. "There are probably 10 of these guys who have played for me before and know the way we operate and built this.
"The 15 games last year I coached was a huge learning curve for me in who we wanted to keep and what we wanted to do with some of these players. Regardless of what happens, of the culture that you want to bring in you need to have the right guys and you need to have the guys willing to compete and we have that here.
"When you have good leadership and they believe in what you’re doing and you believe in them usually good things can happen and that’s what happened so far."