Al Montoya spent 2013 as Winnipeg’s backup goaltender, but he’s making a strong push for the starting job in the second half of the season.
Montoya made 27 saves for the shutout as the Jets defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-0 on Tuesday.
Keaton Ellerby, Jacob Trouba and Anthony Peluso were the goal scorers as Montoya picked up his second shutout of the season and the Jets won their third straight game, matching their season-high.
“For me it’s just about doing the right things in practice and working hard,” said Montoya, who didn’t offer an opinion on whether he deserved No. 1 status.
The netminder won his sixth consecutive decision, and upped his record to 8-2-1. It was Montoya’s second straight start for the Jets after coming on in relief of regular starter Ondrej Pavelec in the first period of a game last week against Minnesota.
“I’m fully aware of what Al Montoya’s doing and how he’s playing,” said Jets coach Claude Noel. “He played very well again tonight. You’ve got to give him full credit. You can’t lose sight of the fact that Pavelec’s our starting goalie.”
Sabres backup Jhonas Enroth got his 12th start of the season, and handed the Jets (19-18-5) the lead when a weak point shot from Ellerby snuck past his blocker in the first period.
“I saw it all the way,” Enroth said. “He literally threw a curveball at me. It was a knuckle puck that dipped right in front of me, and I just got a piece of it.”
The Sabres (11-25-4) thought they had tied the game when Marcus Foligno banged the puck past Montoya, but the referees ruled the net was dislodged before the puck went in. Video review was inconclusive, so the call on the ice stood.
“If that goes our way it’s a different kind of game,” said Sabres forward Drew Stafford, who knocked the net off.
Trouba, the rookie defenceman, one-timed a Chris Thorburn pass to beat Enroth at 13:06 of the second period for his third goal of the season.
Peluso added an empty-net goal with 1:28 remaining.
The Jets have said they’ll need to string together more than just a three-game streak to make a push for a Western Conference playoff spot.
“I think every team struggles with consistency,” Trouba said. “It’s part of the game, and it’s what you’re striving for.”
Enroth, who finished with 23 saves on 25 shots, hasn’t had much help from his teammates this season. The Sabres have scored just 16 goals in his 12 starts.
Buffalo failed to score on four power plays, while the Jets were blanked all three times they had the man advantage.
While Montoya’s US$601,000 salary is $3.3 million less than Pavelec’s, his play could soon force Noel to re-evaluate the way he splits his goalies’ workloads.
Pavelec is 11-16-4, with a .902 save percentage, while Montoya increased his save percentage to .934.
After the game Noel said goalies, like special teams units, get hot and cold, and that the Jets would let things play out.
The Sabres, owners of the NHL’s worst record, had earned points in seven of their previous nine games, including a win against the Jets.
That wasn’t Winnipeg’s only loss against teams near the bottom of the standings. The Jets had been facing criticism for losses to Edmonton, Calgary and Florida, and vowed before the game that they wouldn’t be taking their opponent lightly.
“You’ve got to come ready to play every game,” Trouba said. “There’s no bad teams in this league. Everybody’s got good players.”
Notes: Buffalo forward Ville Leino, who was shaken up against Washington on Sunday, was in the Sabres lineup but left after just three first-period shifts with a lower-body injury. a Jets forward Thorburn played in his 500th career game. a Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler’s 10 goals in December were second only to Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, who had 12.