CHICAGO — How will Al Montoya do in his homecoming?
That’s one of the many questions to be answered on Wednesday night when the Chicago product gets the start between the pipes for the Winnipeg Jets against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
Montoya is getting his second consecutive start and will appear in his third straight game after relieving Ondrej Pavelec just under six minutes into the period of what turned into a 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks on Saturday.
When I asked Jets head coach Claude Noel what Montoya had done to earn another start, he said simply that Montoya has been playing well and he deserved it.
Tough to argue with that rationale, as I wrote in my game analysis column after Monday’s 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, when a team is struggling to get victories, it’s never a bad idea to ride the hot goaltender.
Before folks ramp up the speculation that this is the beginning of the end of Pavelec’s reign, Montoya remains the backup but promoting some competition for crease time is a good thing.
With four starts in 17 games, now Montoya is getting closer to the pace that will be required for him to earn the 15-to-20 starts I projected him to get going into the season.
Montoya’s only had one prior start in his hometown, so you can be sure he’s excited about this opportunity.
Aside from making timely saves, Montoya’s ability to play and even settle dumped in pucks down behind the net helped the Jets on their breakouts against a Red Wings team that is known for its ability to control the puck.
There were plenty of stretches on Saturday when the Blackhawks owned the puck, so we’ll see if Montoya’s puck-handling ability could have an impact this evening as well.
In what has been a regular theme since the Jets returned to the NHL, this is another chance for the Jets to show they can put together back-to-back solid efforts.
The United Center is considered one of the best atmosphere’s in the NHL, so I asked Noel if he thought that his team might be able to feed off the energy in the building.
“I’d love it if we could take the wind out of this building like they were able to do in ours,” said Noel. “It would be a really good thing. I’d like us to just focus on playing.
“They know how to do things here. This is a good team. I’d like to get some momentum off our last game. For me it’s not going to be about the building so much. This is a fun place to play. It starts with the anthem.”
As for the Jets’ lineup, it looks like Zach Redmond will be a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game, while Evander Kane (lower-body) is officially listed as a game-day decision, he says he’s good to go so I’ll be surprised if he’s not in the lineup after missing Monday’s contest.
UPDATE: Kane participated in the pre-game warm-up but didn’t do any line rushes and has been scratched with the lower-body issue that held him out Monday.
For the Blackhawks, RW Jeremy Morin stayed on for quite a bit of extra work, so chances are he’ll be a healthy scratch and the Blackhawks could dress 7 D, possibly sliding Sheldon Brookbank on the fourth-line RW slot when necessary.
Here’s how I expect both teams to start (assuming Kane is good to go, either Eric Tangradi or Anthony Peluso will be a healthy scratch).
Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Devin Setoguchi
Eric Tangradi-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Matt Halischuk-Mark Scheifele-Michael Frolik
Chris Thorburn-James Wright-Anthony Peluso
Grant Clitsome-Dustin Byfuglien
Toby Enstrom-Zach Bogosian
Adam Pardy-Keaton Ellerby
Al Monotya (Ondrej Pavelec)
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Brandon Pirri-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Sheldon Brookbank (lots of other Fs being double shifted here in Brookbank’s place)
Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford (Nikolai Khabibulin)