Montoya can show Rangers what they missed

Goalie Al Montoya, a former No. 6 overall

Goalie Al Montoya, a former No. 6 overall draft pick of the Rangers, has been outstanding for the Islanders since being traded here last month. (Mar. 8, 2011) (Credit: Christopher Pasatieri)

Tuesday night's meeting with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden could have an interesting ingredient for the Islanders, who are likely to start Al Montoya in goal. Montoya was drafted by the Rangers in 2004 but never made it to the NHL with them.

"I'm sure he's excited to get back and show them that he's definitely an NHL-caliber goaltender," defenseman Andrew MacDonald said Monday.

Montoya has been with the Islanders only since February, when the injury-depleted team, desperate to find just about anyone in goalie's regalia, obtained him from Phoenix's AHL team in San Antonio for a draft pick.

Now Montoya finds himself in a game that has some implications beyond the usual rivalry. A victory keeps the flicker of playoff hopes alive for the Islanders. A loss by the Rangers adds some anxiety as they cling to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"I had no hard feelings. It was great to be drafted by such a great team," Montoya said of the Rangers. "But at the same time, this is where I am now."

Of course, Montoya wants to prove something. "Oh, sure," he said. "Every day you step on the ice. A lot of those guys are my former teammates. It will be good, but once you get down to it, you are playing just to win another game, basically."

Montoya has been a revelation for the Islanders. He's 7-2-3 with a 2.09 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.

It took a dizzying set of circumstances for the Islanders to require the services of Montoya, who essentially had become a career minor-leaguer since playing in five games with Phoenix in the 2008-09 season.

Rick DiPietro had his maladies. Then injuries to his understudies and the refusal of Evgeni Nabokov to report paved the way for Montoya.

"I'm not going to lie. At a certain point, you start thinking to yourself, 'You don't know what's going on,' " Montoya said of his stalled career. "It's all about staying with it, staying with what you believe in and believing in yourself. I was saying to myself, 'Just a matter of time, just a matter of time.' Once this door opened, I just wanted to come in here full force."

Coach Jack Capuano has taken notice. "For me, it's a situation of a young man making the most of his opportunity," he said. "He's been square to the puck. He's been vocal with our defense back there. He's controlling his rebounds. To me, he's been a competitor."

DiPietro, out since Feb. 2 after being injured in a goalie fight, may yet return before the season ends. Given the Islanders' financial commitment to the incumbent, Montoya knows he is not a lock to retain his job.

"I understand the situation," he said. "My job is just to play when I get the chance and help this team win games. It's that simple . . . Every night I'm learning something. Every night I'm competing for something. I just worry about that next game."

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