Al Montoya doesn't have the pedigree of Evgeni Nabokov or the flair of Rick DiPietro. He does, however, appear to be proving he's the New York Islanders' best goaltender.
Montoya stopped 30 shots Tuesday night, including four during a 5-on-3 power play in the third period, as the Islanders beat Buffalo 2-1 for their first back-to-back wins in more than six weeks.
After Brian Rolston broke a 1-1 tie at 9:23 of the third period, Montoya preserved the lead during a 1:34 span in which the Sabres were up two men. His best stops came when he denied Thomas Vanek's wide-open jam try, then used his glove to stop Derek Roy on the rebound. He also stopped Jason Pominville's blast from the right circle as the two-man power play was ending.
"Al gave us a chance and we showed some desperation there," said coach Jack Capuano, whose team blocked a season-high 19 shots, including a pair by defenseman Travis Hamonic at the start of the 5-on-3. "I think we've played with a little bit of an attitude that we maybe didn't have the first couple weeks of the season."
Montoya's goaltending left the Sabres frustrated.
"We had opportunities. We had chances to score," Pominville said. "We didn't. That falls on us to put it away."
The Sabres also misfired on a sure goal when a wide-open Ville Leino couldn't get a stick on Marc-Andre Gagnani's hot pass after the power play had ended.
"We missed a couple of beauties," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Even on the 5-on-3 we missed a couple. Then right afterwards, the Leino opportunity. When you miss those, they'll come back to bite you."
The Islanders hadn't won consecutive games since they won three in a row following an opening-night loss to Florida. New York, which won its first road game of the season on Saturday in New Jersey, earned back-to-back wins away from the Nassau Coliseum for the first time since last March.
Montoya has played the Isles' last three games, winning two and allowing just four goals. With Nabokov injured and DiPietro struggling, he's making the case to get the lion's share of the action -- at least for now.
"He gave us a chance to win and he made some good saves," Capuano said. "He didn't see a lot of chances in the first period, but as the game went on there were more chances. When we needed a save, Al came up big for us."
Jhonas Enroth, starting his eighth consecutive game in place of injured Ryan Miller, made 28 saves for the injury-plagued Sabres, who are without several other regulars, including Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis -- and lost defenseman Jordan Leopold to a first-period upper-body injury.
The Islanders grabbed the early lead by converting on their first power-play chance. With Paul Szczechura off for holding, PA Parenteau set up Mark Streit for a blast from the left point. Matt Moulson, part of a screen in front of Enroth, deflected the puck down and it bounced into the net at 6:47 for his eighth of the season.
Buffalo tied it 1:54 into the third period with the help of a fortunate bounce. Vanek's pass toward the crease hit Pominville's skate and deflected right to Jochen Hecht, who was coming late. Hecht snapped a wide-open 10-footer past Montoya for his second of the season.
New York had two excellent opportunities to go back in front, only to be denied by posts. Kyle Okposo's snap shot from inside the right circle 6:18 into the third beat Enroth cleanly but caught iron and stayed out. About two minutes later, John Tavares stole a pass and broke in on Enroth, but his rip from the lower left circle hit Enroth and then the far post. Moulson shoved the rebound just wide.
Enroth also got some help from Luke Adam a minute later -- Adam fished Rolston's shot off the goal line after it bobbled over the goaltender. But on the ensuing faceoff, the Islanders again attacked the net and were rewarded when Rolston converted David Ullstrom's passout.
"I took about three swipes on that puck," Rolston said. "It was just a loose one and I couldn't get my stick on it, but we came right back, stuck with it and Ully made a nice play in front. I think they over-pursued about three guys and I was alone in front and stuck it in five-hole."
Losing at home after pulling even early in the third period didn't sit well with Pominville.
"We did a good job getting ourselves back into the game, but we kind of let up a goal we don't want to give up," he said. "The bottom line is we've got to work for 60 minutes and dig deep. Once we get back into the game, we can't give up the goal we gave up."
Things may be looking up a bit for the Islanders, who at 7-11-4 are still last in the East and the lowest-scoring team in the NHL but have gone 2-1-1 in their last four games.
"You like to build on things, we might not have had the success we wanted to, but we're putting it together," Montoya said. "It might be a certain shift or a certain penalty kill, but it's building that momentum and knowing that when you get in that situation again that you've been there and you've done it and you can do it again."
Material from team media was used in this report