MONTREAL -- Despite having Evgeni Nabokov healthy and available, New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano has opted to give Al Montoya his eighth start in goal in the last nine games for tonight's game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Nabokov suffered a groin injury the last time the Islanders faced the Canadiens, a 4-3 win at home Nov. 17, but was taken off injured reserve Monday.
In Nabokov's absence, and with Rick DiPietro still sidelined with a groin injury of his own, Montoya has played extremely well, with a 3-2-2 record, .915 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average in his last eight games. That includes 13 saves in a shutout third period to preserve a 5-4 win against Dallas on Dec. 3 for DiPietro after he was injured.
Meanwhile, Nabokov waits.
"I really like the way the last couple of days of practice have gone for him, but we have a lot of games coming up," Capuano said. "So we'll get him some additional work and he'll be ready shortly for us."
Nabokov did not hide his disappointment with the decision after Tuesday's morning skate, but admitted he needs to earn the starting job back from Montoya.
"The big thing is to play well," he said. "In a competitive league you have to play well in order to have a chance. It doesn't matter what team you're on, if you're fighting for first spot in the conference or fighting for a playoff spot, whoever gives you the best chance to win has to play."
It has been a long, strange trip for Nabokov ever since he hit free agency as one of the League's top goalies in the summer of 2010, coming off a season where he went 44-16-10 with a .922 save percentage and 2.43 goals-against average in 71 games for the San Jose Sharks.
But Nabokov found no suitors in a flooded goalie market who were willing to meet his asking price, and instead headed to the KHL. His stay there lasted just 22 games, and then hoped to land in Detroit when he signed with the Red Wings. But the Islanders grabbed him on a waiver claim, and after sitting out last season after the waiver claim, he's been with the Isles since training camp.
"I hate free agency," Nabokov said with a laugh. "Things change. That was the first time I became a free agent. Oops."
His time in Long Island has been tumultuous, to say the least, but he says he wants to make it work with the Islanders, except he is not willing to entertain the idea of being a backup.
"I don't think I will ever agree with that term," he said. "I do like to play, but you have to give your team a chance to win and you have to play well in order to demand something or expect something. That's the bottom line."
Nabokov said he feels he was given ample opportunity to prove himself earlier this season only to be de-railed by this groin injury. He'll now have to wait a bit longer to get another opportunity to start over.
For Montreal, defenseman Chris Campoli will re-enter the lineup to play for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury on opening night in Toronto on Oct. 6. He will be on Montreal's third defense pairing, with newcomer Tomas Kaberle, who will make his Bell Centre debut after being acquired from Carolina in a trade for Jaroslav Spacek last Friday.
Campoli also will play on the second power-play unit, alongside Raphael Diaz, while Kaberle and P.K. Subban man the points on the first unit.
To make room for Campoli, hard-hitting rookie Alexei Emelin will sit out while defenseman Yannick Weber will play as a forward to take the spot of injured captain Brian Gionta.
Carey Price gets the start in goal for a sixth straight game.
Here are the possible lineups for the game, though the Islanders held only an optional skate Tuesday morning, so these line combinations are from their last game.
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
David Ullstrom - Josh Bailey - Brian Rolston
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Tim Wallace
Mark Streit - Travis Hamonic
Steve Staios - Milan Jurcina
Mike Mottau - Dylan Reese
Michael Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Andrei Kostitsyn
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Louis Leblanc
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Yannick Weber
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle - Chris Campoli