Jets Post-Game 41: Al Montoya For the Win

The Jets won their second in a row for the first time since games against New Jersey and Long Island to start the Eastern Conference road trip in November. Coach Noel said the team needed to gain some momentum, and they might have done it through the play of back-up netminder Al Montoya. 

The TSN crew called this one ‘the most complete’ game of the Jets’ season, but it was Al Montoya and Semyon Varlamov that kept this a low scoring affair. They were rightfully two of the three stars of the game.

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The Jets had their usual scrambles, though perhaps fewer 5-alarm turnovers than is typical. Blake Wheeler blocked three shots, including a sliding block at the point, followed by a firm clearance. Trouba had a whopping six shot blocks, and was physical and edgy in getting under the Avs’ skin. A pair of misplaced whistles ensured a chippy game didn’t turn into a special teams contest. 

Overall, the team showed a strong desire to keep the puck out of the net, even if the structures weren’t in place to make that task look easy. 

The Jets did manage to keep Duchene off the scoreboard, and it was a shared effort by the Byfugline/Ellerby and Enstrom/Trouba pairings as Noel allowed Patrick Roy to dictate the matchups. Because of that, special credit should go to the Jets’ second line of Kane/Scheifele/Frolik for facing the Duchene line and giving up just one flukey goal. A Nathan MacKinnon shot from distance on a two-on-two hit Mark Stuart, then Zach Bogosian before bouncing into the net while all five men involved in the play looked around for it.

That goal came just moments after a slick, backhand feed from Wheeler going behind the net to Ladd standing in the mid slot was placed under the bar blocker side on Varlamov. 

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Nevertheless, a lucky bounce was hardly the best chance of the night for the Avs, and Montoya was seen making positional saves as well as acrobatic ones. 

It’s the second time in exactly half a season that we can seriously discuss the idea that the team’s $600K back-up gives them a better chance to win than their highly paid starter. The Atlanta organization sent away the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen to make room for Pavelec to play, and Winnipeg’s GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made signing Pavelec to a 5 year, $19.5M deal a priority in his first full summer behind the desk. Now his numbers are at a career low during a career with mostly back-up quality numbers. 

After the Jets score to win, Buf punches Varlie in the face while screaming his joy

The Good

There was a ton of good in this game, as the Jets faced a team very similar to themselves and came out on top. The Enstrom-Trouba pairing was outstanding again, and gave me quite the scare before the game by posting that it had been split up. The twosome were actually the team’s worst corsi pairing at around 45%, but Trouba’s six shot blocks and physical (and sometimes borderline dirty) play really frustrated the Avs. Trouba also had two shots on the net. 

Trouba’s shot is still quite a ways from NHL level, but he creates a lot just by getting the puck back down deep. In this game he missed three shots and had two more blocked. That’s 7 shot attempts by a defenceman, with a low on-net percentage but a lot of positive results. 

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As mentioned, they and the Buf/Ellerby pairing shut down the Duchene line, whose only goal came in a rare shift against Bogosian and Stuart. The Stastny/Landeskog pair drove possession against the Jets (65% corsi on 20 attempts for, 11 against), and Duchene had his chances. But in general, the Jets’ defence held their own.

In a very rare moment of fair reporting, the back checking of Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele was highlighted during the game. That line went against the Duchene line and was only -1 while creating scoring chances for themselves against a talented goaltender having a strong night. 

The LLW line was a negative corsi group on the night while facing possession monsters Stastny and Landeskog. But that surprised me from watching the game as that group created a ton of offfence and seemed to be in Colorado’s zone all night. The opening OT shift by Ladd and Little was a clinic, and Blake Wheeler generated a lot off the rush on top of his assist on the Jets’ lone regulation marker.

Al Montoya was the team’s #1 star without exception. He was excellent in the game, including throwing a hip check on Gabriel Landeskog, and slashing MacKinnon when he came too close. The guy is engaged, protects his own crease, and most importantly, manages the damn puck. It’s like night and day back there with Pavelec and Montoya. Pav’s pucks always end up in front of him. Montoya is always moving the puck away from the net. A pleasure to watch. 

This is the third save in a series during OT: Duchene draws in a defender and drops to an open wrister by Benoit, turned to the corner by Montoya. The Avs get it back, Duchene tries to tuck it in the corner when Scheifele over pursues, and Montoya is about to make a leaning shoulder save on O’Reilly just moments before the Jets go to the other end to score. The Jets didn’t make it easy on Monty.

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The Bad

The Jets’ zone time was superior, as were their possession numbers, shots, and scoring chances. But in usual fashion, the Thorburn line was exempt from that expectation. 

Thorburn was (again) the team’s worst possession player at just 40%, and created nothing in the way of scoring chances that I can recall (we await Travis’s more keen record keeping). His line had a few chances, but struggled in transition (because it’s hard with two players), and in defensive zone coverage (as always). At this point, it’s a matter of pumping and dumping for the team’s UFAs, and Thorburn is turning second rounders into thirds. 

The Bogosian/Stuart pairing only had two or maybe three shifts against the Duchene line on the night and it was Bad. On one shift, Duchene ate Bogosian alive in the corner by drawing him up the half wall and then blowing right around him to the underneath lane. Duchene continued to expose Bogo’s mobility, however, by changing his mind, changing directions a second time and going back through Bogosian to go over top instead for what ended up being two dangerous looks before Montoya covered. On another, MacKinnon scored (however unlikely).

Bogo and Stuart were positive corsi players on the night, and I talk often about Stuart’s extremely poor corsi numbers so it’s worth mentioning. I thought Stuart managed his gap a little better in transition, but still gave away the blue line and chose the top of the circles as his place to force the play. But the pairing played mostly against John Mitchell, who used to be a fourth liner in Toronto, and Max Talbot. It’s possible both played injured, it should be noted. Credit where it’s due, but it came against much weaker opponents.

The Avs lost PA Parenteau part way through the game to a knee injury, and already missing Alex Tanguay, were shy on offensive ability. It’s hard to know if anything would have changed, but it was far from a dominant victory and the margin for error was slim.

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The Jets did everything they should in this game, but it was hardly a complete game. It just had the score of a complete game. Montoya’s 33 saves were a major factor, as were Varlamov’s 35. Break downs happened often, but the difference was rebound control from Montoya and puck management by the team in general. The most dramatic difference between this very positive game for the Jets and some of the stinkers was puck support. It’s not rocket science, but this team puts a lot of pressure on individuals to make plays rather than supporting the puck. It was good to see.

  • Wasn’t surprised in the least that the Jet’s came out and had a good overall game. They have shown a tendency to do that when Montoya starts is in net. In a legal where wins and loses matter, why it hasn’t happened more often defies what meager logic I can muster.

    With the win, the team has clawed its way back to .500 hockey and to what can be best described as their Mendoza Line. It also catapults them from 22nd to 18th in the league and perhaps more importantly, gives them momentum going forward. If the tall foreheads better known as the Jet’s brain trust decides to go back to Pavelec against Buffalo, another brick is going through the TV. I would assume they don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but then again, some of the decisions made this year could best be described as counterintuitive.