It’s usually Jets starting goalie, Ondrej Pavelec, that captures the hearts of Jets fans following a win, but it was backup Al Montoya who stole the show, blanking the Devils, 3-0, Sunday night at the MTS Centre.
Montoya turned aside all 24 shots aimed his way en route to his fourth career shutout and second with the Jets.
“It feels great,” said Montoya to a scrum of reporters after the win. “Knowing that we were coming in to this game with a couple losses. It feels good to come out with the win.”
That feeling of relief could be felt throughout the Jets locker room following the game. The win not only improves the Jets to 3-3-0 on the season but also marks the end of a three-game losing streak dating back to October 4.
Sunday marked the first game of the year for Montoya. The win improves him to 4-1-0 lifetime as a member of the Jets. An impressive record for a No. 2 guy on the depth chart, but is it enough to stir a goalie controversy in the River City?
“No,” replied Montoya. “I’ve been there before but for me it’s not worrying about the rest. It’s just playing hockey. Whenever I’m called upon, you know this is the best league in the world. I’m here to give this team a chance whenever I get that chance.”
No? Ok. Surely then, Jets head coach, Claude Noel, would be able to feed the media a little biscuit to eat up, but it wasn’t so. Instead, he put the onus back on the reporters.
“I’ll leave it up to you guys [the media] to create one, if you’d like,” said Noel with a cheeky grin. “His game was great. It’s an easy game to play when you watch your team play five [games] and then you’re under the gun. A lot of pressure on Al and I thought he handled it superb.”
A warm welcome
Montoya wasn’t the only goalie to get a warm reception from a sold-out crowd at the MTS Centre. Devils’ goaltender, Cory Schneider, was given a moment of recognition on the Jumbotron during the first period to which the crowd responded with a collective roar of appreciation.
Schneider played three seasons (2007-2010) with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League before being called up permanently by their NHL affiliate, the Vancouver Canucks. Schneider was traded to the Devils over the summer in a surprise deal on opening night of the 2013 NHL entry draft.
A successful shuffle
The Jets showed off a new look up front against the Devils, shaking up their top three forward lines.
Evander Kane replaced captain Andrew Ladd on the top line with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. Ladd was moved to the second line to play with Michael Frolik and Mark Scheifele and Devin Setoguchi dropped to the third line alongside Eric Tangradi and Olli Jokinen.
And the moves appeared to work. The Jets scored more than two goals for the first in three games and shutout the opposing team for the first time this year.
It became a mission for Noel earlier in the week to create chemistry with his forwards and he was happy on how things turned out.
“I just thought the guys played better,” said Noel. “We were a lot stronger and I think they felt comfortable. We’ll see where the lines go but for us right now, we’ve got a lot of positives to build on.
“I thought we were managing the game in front of us, playing way more conscientious. If you look at the puck management side of stuff, from our breakout, to the neutral zone, putting pucks in the right area. We played with a purpose and I think there was some urgency. I thought we played a really strong game.”
It doesn’t appear the honeymoon stage is over for Jets rookie Jacob Trouba. The 19-year-old Michigan product led the Jets again in ice time, eating up more than 26 minutes in the win.
“I guess that’s why I’m here, is to play,” said Trouba of his ice time. “I’m used to playing like that with past teams so it’s not any different for me.”
In five games this year, Trouba has led the Jets in playing time three times. It takes a lot of trust from Jets brass to earn the kind of minutes he has, something Noel said is well deserved.
“He’s a very good player for us,” said Noel. “He plays with a lot of poise. He shakes off mistakes. He plays with a large amount of confidence. He’s just a good player. He makes smart decisions. He’s playing very well.”
Olli smokes…another milestone
Last week 15-year NHL veteran, Olli Jokinen, celebrated his 300th career goal in a 5-3 win against the Los Angeles Kings. On Sunday, Jokinen celebrated yet another career milestone, tallying his 400th career assist and 700th career point. With the Jets up 1-0 and the Devils net empty, Jokinen slid the puck over to Kane who deposited in to New Jersey’s unprotected net.
It was the Jets most complete game of the year so far. They played defensively sounds, used the body to their advantage and outworked a Devils team poor of offensive abilities.
The penalty kill continues to impress. The Jets went a perfect 5-for-5, including killing off a 5-on-3 for a 1:13. The Jets played up-tempo for most of the game and will have to build off that when they welcome Montreal to the MTS Centre Tuesday night.
First Star –
Al Montoya, WPG
Montoya had a stellar showing in his first start of the year, stopping all 24 shots aimed his way. He looked strong through all three periods, stopping a number of chances in close, including a stellar performance during a 5-on-3 power play for the Devils.
Second Star –
Evander Kane, WPG
The Jets haven’t had many “game-changing” performances from their roster this season but Evander Kane came awfully close Sunday. The speedy forward scored two goals, and was a wrecking ball, landing 5 hits and was a plus-2 in 20:45 of ice time.
Third Star –
Jim Slater, WPG
After missing a majority of the season last year, Slater has been the sturdiest piece on the Jets fourth line this season. Not often a guy who shines on the score sheet but with an assist and strong penalty kill play – 4:52 of his 13:19 of ice time was on the PK – he’s well deserving of the third star and a key factor in the Jets win.