Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Though Ondrej Pavelec has been off to a hot start for the Winnipeg Jets, it might be Al Montoya between the pipes tonight versus the New York Islanders.
Here we are in the final week of January 2013 and there are three certainties that I'm positive will come to fruition going forward: one day I will die (though hopefully not soon), taxes aren't going anywhere and, at some point, Al Montoya is going to start for the Winnipeg Jets this season.
After an opening day downer at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, the Jets have responded admirably, collecting points in each of their last three games against the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tonight, they host the New York Islanders in a game that could feature the 2013 debut of the man they call "The Big Cubano".
Montoya, who has played the past two seasons as the quasi-starter for the Islanders, was signed in Winnipeg this past summer via free agency to the tune of a 1-year 600K contract, replacing an aging Chris Mason as the team's back-up netminder.
One of the last times Winnipeggers saw the former first round draft pick of the New York Rangers in action, Evander Kane was bowling him over in the second period of a 2-2- game. After starting the season 6-5-3 with a .921 SV%, Montoya would miss the next month with a concussion as a result of that hit.
His first three months before that concussion were a Jekyll and Hyde affair, as the American goaltender struggled with consistency. It was a stretch where his play was either lights out or alarmingly sub-par. In seven of his first seventeen games, he posted a SV% of over .950. In another six of them, that SV% would dip below .900.
But for a Jets' squad who play at home tonight before heading on the road for games on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, this may be a good time to get the incumbent Ondrej Pavelec some rest.
Pavelec's career stats against the Isles are wonderfully pedestrian, a 3-4-1 record matched by a .917 SV%. While these numbers are better than his historical stats in the second half of back-to-backs or any time he's started against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- two situations which produced wins this week -- Claude Noel could be tapping his back-up on the shoulder after today's pre-game skate.
Through four games, the Winnipeg Jets have allowed an average of 33.2 shots, ranking them just outside the NHL's top five. Furthermore, his 124 saves rank Pavelec second overall in the NHL, nipping at the heels of first place Ilya Bryzgalov (131).
Winnipeg's recipe for success this year is as simple as they come: keep Pavelec rested, win games. Tonight is a wonderful opportunity to put this plan to the test.
And while some may argue that the Islanders will have a book on their former teammate, the same theory can be reversed and applied to the Jets's advantage, since Montoya most likely knows the shooting tendencies of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and the extended wealth of young talent this Islanders team offers.
I will leave you with this final point: in a shortened season which featured no training camp or exhibition schedule for players to prepare (thanks lockout!), twenty-two NHL teams have already started each of their goaltenders as coaches try to find a balance between keeping starters away from medical tables while making sure their back-ups will be ready if and when they are called upon.
After tonight, that number could jump to twenty-three.
Will Al Montoya make his Jets' debut tonight? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!