New York Islanders: Could Al Montoya Be the Real Deal?

Daniel Friedman@DFriedmanNHLCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2011

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 21:  Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the New York Islanders protects the net during an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers at the Nassau Coliseum on February 21, 2011 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

On February 9, 2011, Islanders GM Garth Snow made what was considered to be a minor trade, giving the Phoenix Coyotes a sixth round selection and receiving goaltender Al Montoya, a former sixth overall pick and consensus draft bust.

No doubt, this move was made out of sheer desperation. This was Snow's last-ditch attempt at acquiring a capable goaltender with any amount of experience in the NHL.

The roster was in complete shambles. AHL goalies became NHL ones,  ECHL goalies filled AHL positions, and well, I don't even want to know who they found to put in the net at the ECHL level.

The Islanders had used five different starting goaltenders this season. By trading Dwayne Roloson, the only Islander netminder seemingly capable of staying healthy, New York simply could not respond, as they watched, helplessly, as one starter after another went down with an injury.

First, it was Rick DiPietro, though we all knew that was coming. Then, Nathan Lawson got hurt, with Kevin Poulin following suit shortly afterward.

And of course, in the midst of all this chaos, there was the situation with Evgeni Nabakov, who refused to report upon being claimed by New York off the waiver wire.

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The Islanders were down to a tandem of Nathan Lawson and Mikko Koskinen, and while Koskinen did have a few good starts, it soon became clear that he was not yet NHL-ready, and he needed the playing time in Bridgeport.

Enter Al Montoya.

Since coming over from Phoenix, the 26-year-old from Chicago has provided the Islanders with stellar play. Even more importantly, he's given the team something they haven't seen since Roloson departed for Tampa Bay: stability.

In just five appearances in an Isles jersey, Montoya has posted a 3-1 record, with an astonishing 1.42 goals-against average to go with a .946 save percentage.

Not bad for a goalie who plays for the third-most scored against team in the National Hockey League.

The New York Islanders have become the Land of Opportunity for underachieving players to prove their true mettle, and Al Montoya is just the latest to take advantage.

Don't believe me? Just ask Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner.

While it's too early to make any rash judgments, it definitely appears that Montoya is finally living up to the hype, and he's been nothing short of sensational for this team.

He has stopped 78 of the 81 total shots he's faced in three starts for New York. He's also shown confidence and poise, since being thrown into action for the first time as an Islander, when the team won a 7-6 slug fest against Buffalo in overtime.

Montoya has shown excellent reflexes, especially with his leg pads, and while he's an aggressive goaltender, he's nowhere near as much of a risk-taker as Rick DiPietro, which is a good thing.

There is one area where D.P. and Montoya compare, in that they both like to play the puck and get involved offensively. The latter has shown he possesses just as much ability as the former in that department.

His tendency to handle the puck has significantly helped the power play, because even when the opposition clears the puck down, Montoya is there to send it right back into the offensive zone, keeping the play alive and saving valuable power play time that normally would have been lost.

Al Montoya is starting to make a case for a roster spot on the team next year, and the way he's played since being dealt to the Islanders, I'd have a tough time denying him that opportunity.

After all, that's all he's ever really needed—an opportunity and a chance to finally be "the guy."

Montoya's making the most of his.

Comments are welcome.