Al Montoya #35 of the New York Islanders makes a...

Al Montoya #35 of the New York Islanders makes a save against the New Jersey Devils. (Nov. 25, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

There has been a goaltender debate since the Islanders convened for training camp, when it was made clear that three goaltenders would be on the roster.

Al Montoya emerged first and played well to open the season, going 2-1-0 in the first three games. Over the next month, he only played twice as Jack Capuano tried to get Evgeni Nabokov some playing time -- ostensibly to see if he could still play an NHL workload at 36 and gauge the market for his services -- and then some work for Rick DiPietro, who isn't going anywhere.

That's when the Islanders' slide began. And now, as the team appears to be emerging from a 16-game funk with three straight solid efforts, it's not a coincidence that Montoya has played all three games.

"That's for you guys to decide [whether Montoya is the No. 1]," Travis Hamonic said after Montoya's latest strong outing, a 2-1 win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. "Al was great tonight, but we play hard no matter who's in goal."

It's hard for Capuano and GM Garth Snow to ignore Montoya's numbers. He's seventh in the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against average and tied for sixth with a .933 save percentage -- those would be gaudy stats on any team, but they are eye-popping on a team that's allowed an average of 3.09 goals per game, 24th in the league.

Montoya missed a week with a strained hamstring, but he's shown remarkable consistency.

"I knew the situation coming into camp, and it wasn't pretty," Montoya said. "But this is the NHL, it's the only place I want to be, so I've just tried to take full advantage when I'm out there."

Tuesday was his finest game this season. Montoya made four stellar saves during a 1:34 five-on-three for the Sabres in the third. He's 2-0-1 when he makes 30 or more saves this season. With Nabokov (groin) shelved for another 2-4 weeks and DiPietro unable to play consistently well, Montoya is the clear top choice now.

"You see it with all the top goalies -- the more you play, the less you think. It's more natural," he said. "You just let your body take over. I've been feeling real good in there and I think we've cleaned some things up as a team."

Notes & quotes: D Andrew MacDonald blocked a shot on Tuesday and was hobbling. The Islanders are sure to call up a defenseman from Bridgeport.

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