It was a brief stint, but Winnipeg Jets fans will remember Al Montoya‘s reign as the teams’ starter as a good one.
In the Jets’ last four games, Montoya was the winning goaltender in three of them. Montoya was easily the reason behind the Jets’ late push at the end of 2013, a three-game win streak that brought life back to the inconsistent team.
Unfortunately, all good things do come to an end, and both the win streak and Montoya’s days as the Jets’ starter were ended on Thursday night at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, in a 3-4 road loss.
The goalie issue in Winnipeg is something that has been brewing for over a month, as Montoya’s battery-mate Ondrej Pavelec started playing poorly mid-way through the month of December. Pavelec effectively lost the job as Jets’ starter in the teams’ 2-6 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, and when the team came back after the NHL’s Christmas break, they rallied around a new face in the crease. The Jets gained four huge points in two divisional wins, something hard to come by so far in the 2013-14 season, and #35 topped off 2013 with his second shutout of the season.
Now that Montoya is above the threshold of 12 games, he can be compared to some of the NHL’s best goaltenders in both Save Percentage and GAA, where he ranks 7th league-wide in both categories. Pavelec, by comparison, ranks in 42nd and 41st, respectively.
When the Jets take on the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon, it is expected that Pavelec will be back in the net for Winnipeg. However, the question remains: does he deserve to be there?
The Jets have two starting goalies. Much like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the two goalies should have to earn the spot, not have it given to them. It is a timely process (the Leafs’ Jonathan Bernier only emerged as the team’s starter after Christmas), but in the end, it will make for a peaceful union between management and goaltenders, and a better hockey team overall.
If Pavelec does not reach the bar that Montoya has set in the past week, then Jets fans will simply see the 28-year old American in net once again. The great play by Montoya has made crease management easier for Head Coach Claude Noel.
Best case scenario: Pavelec knows he is under pressure to perform, and he does just that. The Jets go from two mediocre net-minders in mid-December, to two goaltenders that can be considered above-average. Both goalies feel good, management feels good, and the team plays well, gaining ground on those ahead of them in the playoff race.
Only time will tell before we see either Pavelec or Montoya emerge as the undisputed starting goaltender for the Winnipeg Jets. Much of it will hinge on Pavelec’s performance in Boston on Saturday, but consistency down the stretch will be crucial, especially with Pavelec expected to play in the Olympics for the Czech Republic in February.
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