The New York Islanders are getting some pretty decent play out of a confident American goalie who has battled some injury troubles, but was selected higher than any other puckstopper in his draft class.
No, not that one – though he and Rick DiPietro do know each other.
Al Montoya had a golden glow when the New York Rangers selected him sixth overall in 2004, having just led Team USA to its first-ever World Junior Championship title six months earlier.
Roughly seven years, 176 AHL games, two trades and as many encounters with the knife later, Montoya is the latest goalie hoping the Islanders are the proper platform to prove he can play in the NHL.
Acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 9 – four days before his 26th birthday – Montoya is the sixth goalie to stand in the cursed Isles crease this season and he’s put together an encouraging five-game stretch that includes his second shutout at the NHL level. The first one came during his only other showing at the big-league level, another five-game run with the Coyotes at the end of the 2008-09 season.
Montoya acknowledged it’s been tough to maintain the belief that some how, some way, things were going to work out.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” he said. “Two shoulder surgeries, you think teams are giving up on you, you don’t know what’s going on and then all of a sudden you get a chance, you make the most of it.”
Montoya’s .935 save percentage and 1.76 goals-against average at the NHL level is heavily tempered by his short 10-game sample size and the fact all of those contests came with teams that were well out of the playoff picture. Those are just two reasons that make believing Montoya is about to finally arrive a Montana-sized stretch right now – and skeptics probably don’t have to search hard for others.
At the other end of the expectation spectrum, Montoya went save-for-save with 22-year-old James Reimer Wednesday night before the Maple Leafs stopper eventually bested him by one in a 2-1 Toronto win. Two seasons ago Reimer was an ECHL goalie trying to justify being drafted 99th overall in 2006. Right now, he’s a Blue and White brick wall.
Point is, goaltending talent is notoriously tough to pin down, so if for no other sake than injecting some element of intrigue to another tough year on Long Island, let’s see what Montoya can do.
“No one is given a chance in the NHL, that’s for sure,” he said. “You’ve got to earn it and that’s what I tried to do.”
One-on-one with Islanders rookie Michael Grabner
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
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