Moments after Al Montoya helped the Panthers get a much-needed win over the host New York Islanders, coach Gerard Gallant was asked if he had a goalie controversy on his hands.
“Yes,” Gallant said with a big grin, “and that’s good.”
Although no one expects Montoya to usurp Roberto Luongo as Florida’s netminder, his past two performances at least put him in the thoughts of the Panthers to perhaps get a second start in a row Thursday against Los Angeles.
Since signing on as Luongo’s backup in July, Montoya has gotten just one set of consecutive starts with the Panthers and that was because Luongo was hurting.
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Tuesday’s start was Montoya’s first in almost a month.
Afterward, Gallant said he and goalie coach Robb Tallas would discuss who would start against the Kings on the flight home from New York.
“I know what I’m capable of doing because I’ve done it before,” Montoya said. “I had some good practices with the goalie coach and really wanted to play. I wanted to give the guys a chance, and I felt good.”
Being a backup goalie is a tough position, and Montoya’s teammates have noticed his hard work and lack of reward as far as playing time goes.
Against the Islanders, Montoya gave up a goal on New York’s second shot of the night but settled in and ended up with 32 saves.
“He’s been everything we could have asked for,” Gallant said. “He has worked hard and competed. That’s good for the team’s confidence and his as well. He’s a big part of our group.”
The win was just Florida’s second in the past nine games and was its first road win since the Panthers won in Edmonton on Jan. 11.
“We haven’t been playing well and to come into a place like this, well, the odds were stacked against us,” Derek MacKenzie said.
“For Montoya to come up with the effort he did is huge. You see how hard he works every day, so this is great for all of us. I’m glad we have him a 60-minute game. He deserved it.’”
Added Erik Gudbranson: “He was exceptional for us, not only in net but his rebound control and playing the puck. He set things up for us, so give him some credit.”
NO TEARS SHED
Count Gallant as one who doesn’t seem too broken up that the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn next season.
Gallant, who said he was an Islanders fan before joining the Detroit Red Wings, admits the Nassau Coliseum has some special meaning to him, but it’s time to move on.
On Jan. 22, 1985, Gallant made his NHL debut at the Coliseum with the Red Wings and scored on Hall of Famer Billy Smith 1:55 into the second period to help Detroit snap a 12-game winless streak.
“I got into my first NHL game as player and was a big Islanders fan, so it meant something back then,” Gallant said.
“There was a lot of tradition here, and they won Stanley Cups here. But for visiting coaches and players, I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
Bill Torrey, the architect of New York’s Stanley Cup dynasty from 1980 to 1983, has been with the Panthers since their inception in 1992 and says he will miss his old home.
Since his granddaughters play youth hockey in the building, however, Torrey says he will be back at Nassau soon enough. Torrey also plans to attend the Islanders’ regular-season finale here on April 11.
“This is a great hockey building, but it doesn’t measure up to all the new stuff that has been built,” Torrey said. “For anyone who likes to watch hockey, it’s a great building. People know hockey here, it’s exciting.”
▪ Nick Bjugstad had his seventh multi-point game of the season Tuesday, as he had the primary assists on both of Jimmy Hayes’ goals.
“Good play by him for going to the net,” Bjugstad said. “We need to keep getting pucks at the net, bodies in front and create some commotion.”
▪ Brandon Pirri continues to sizzle on the scoresheet as his empty net goal Tuesday was his fifth goal in six games and assured a victory.
“We worked our tails off in this one,” Pirri said.
Next up for Panthers: Kings
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM 560-AM
Series: Los Angeles leads 15-9-3
Noteworthy: The defending Cup champs are 1-0 against the Panthers but have struggled this season. The Kings came into Wednesday five points back of a playoff spot and have lost six of their past seven.