Al Montoya made his case for more time in the Winnipeg net after watching the Jets’ first five games from the bench.
The Jets’ backup goaltender had 24 saves for a shutout as Winnipeg beat the New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Sunday.
Montoya said he was only as good as his team’s willingness to play defence.
“The team was communicating with me and really letting me see the puck,” said Montoya.
“It’s forwards coming back to help out the (defencemen), (defencemen) coming back to help out the goalie. Selflessness out there — that’s what we want our identity to be.”
Evander Kane scored twice and Andrew Ladd added a goal in the final minute for the Jets as they snapped a three-game losing streak to get back to .500. The Devils are now winless in six games to open the season.
Montoya was rarely under siege, but controlled rebounds well and showed poise handling the puck.
Montoya started only five games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season as No. 1 netminder Ondrej Pavelec was near the top of the league in games played and shots faced.
“It’s not an easy game to play when you watch your team play five and you’re under the gun,” said Jets coach Claude Noel. “(There was) a lot of pressure on Al. I thought he handled it superbly.”
Kane opened the scoring for Winnipeg (3-3-0) early in the second period when he carried the puck the length of the ice and banked it off the leg of Devils defenceman Andy Greene and past goalie Cory Schneider.
Schneider said he got a piece of the puck with his stick, but couldn’t react quickly enough after it bounced off Greene.
“They got the bounce to get the winning goal, and we didn’t,” Schneider said. “We’ve just got to find a way. I was good tonight, but he just made that one extra save.”
The game winner came after an unsuccessful two-man advantage for New Jersey (0-3-3) that head coach Pete DeBoer saw as the game’s key moment.
“If we score I think it’s a different game,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got to generate something there. We didn’t work hard enough to create enough offensive opportunities.”
Montoya’s best save came in the second period, when he stopped Patrik Elias point blank after a turnover in the neutral zone.
The backup goalie rarely had to deal with traffic in his crease as the Jets defended their territory and frustrated the Devils.
Kane, who later added an empty-net goal with 57 seconds remaining for his third of the season, thought the Jets found success by limiting the Devils’ chances.
“When you play in the other team’s zone, you’re going to get less shots against,” Kane said. “That was a key part — pressuring them and not giving them time and space to attack us and abuse us in our own end.”
Kane played alongside Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler on the Jets’ top line for the first time this season as Noel decided to juggle his roster after three straight poor showings.
“A lot of good play from a lot of players tonight,” Noel said, adding that the reconfigured lineup would likely be used again when the Jets continue their six-game homestand on Tuesday night against Montreal.
Schneider, who made 32 saves, wasn’t challenged often. His best stop came on a short-handed breakaway by Kane in the third period to keep his team within a goal.
Neither team came close to scoring in a low-energy first period that had the MTS Centre quieter than usual. Each side had one power play, but failed to register a shot on goal.
The Devils will try again for their first win when they wrap up their five-game road trip in Ottawa on Thursday night.
Schneider said getting the first win doesn’t get any easier the longer it takes.
“We’re playing well in stretches,” he said, “but our consistency isn’t quite there yet.”
Notes: Schneider, who spent three seasons with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, was on MTS Centre ice for the first time as an NHL goalie. The crowd gave him a warm ovation during a first-period stoppage, before launching into a taunting chant of “Co-rey”. a The Jets kept their opponent off the scoreboard in the opening period for the first time this season. a The Devils went 0 for 6 on the power play, and are now 1 for 16 to start the season with the extra attacker.