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Al Montoya making himself at home with Canadiens

Backup goaltender has excelled for Montreal during absence of starter Carey Price

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- Al Montoya admits he's having a communication problem in his new hockey home, something that isn't unusual for an NHL player who arrives in this city whose language predominantly is French.

But it's not what you think.

"I speak Spanish and they speak Russian or English, but whatever," the Montreal Canadiens goaltender said with a laugh about his defensemen Tuesday.

Montoya, the first Cuban-American to play in the NHL, had just earned a 36-save shutout in the Canadiens' 4-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in their home opener. It was the sixth shutout of his NHL career and came on an emotion-charged night at Bell Centre.

There seemed to be little language issue during the game between the goalie and his defensemen, three of whom hailed from Russia, two from Canada and one from the United States.

"This [defense] group talks a lot more than I'm used to," Montoya said. "I'll take that, even when half of them don't speak English that well. It's fantastic. There are still growing pains. That's part of the game [but] I figure the more you talk, good or bad, it's good."

Montoya has started each of Montreal's three games this season and is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. The only blemish has been a shootout loss against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.

And let's not overlook the assist Montoya earned on Alexander Radulov's third-period goal. It's the second assist of his 139-game NHL career; his first came during the 2010-11 season, when he played for the New York Islanders.

Montoya signed a one-year contract with the Canadiens on July 1, having spent the past two seasons with the Florida Panthers. He arrived knowing he would play second fiddle to Canadiens cornerstone Carey Price, who missed the first three games of the season because of the flu.

Price practiced Tuesday and could make his season debut against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; SN360, RDS, FS-A, NHL.TV).

During the pregame ceremony Tuesday, Price received the loudest ovation, waving to the roaring crowd in street clothes.

The highlight of the ceremony was captain Max Pacioretty taking the team's ceremonial torch from Jacques Demers, the hugely popular former coach who guided the Canadiens to their most recent Stanley Cup championship, in 1993. Demers, in a wheelchair, is recovering after having a stroke in April, and the surprise sight of him on the scoreboard cranked up the volume in the already roaring arena. Twenty-three seconds after the opening faceoff, an inspired Pacioretty scored his first goal of the season to liven things up even more.

"To step on the ice and see that, the presentation and everything that goes into it, it just shows you the tradition that goes with the Canadiens," Montoya said. "It starts with the people and the fans. [The] players just enjoy the rest. …

"That was awesome. This crowd really outdid themselves; it's just, hat's off to them. It really fired up the team. And I think it might have fired up the other team too."

You wouldn't have known the Penguins had played Monday in Pittsburgh and arrived in Montreal late. The defending Stanley Cup champion blasted out of the gate, outshooting the Canadiens 17-13 in the first period and 36-32 by game's end.

Video: PIT@MTL: Montoya denies Schultz's one-timer

"I know the Penguins like to put pucks on net," Montoya said. "They've got some talented players. So for me it was just being aware in all situations. The [defense] did a great job in front of me. Make the first save, and if there's a rebound they got it out of the way. …

"We wanted to start [the home schedule] on the right foot. It's not like the Penguins are 30 or 40 games into it; they were fresh and they came out flying. We just tried to weather the storm and we capitalized on our chances."

There was no one save, Montoya said, that in his view was a game-changer.

"I don't know. It's a blur," he said with a shrug.

Any special significance to his shutout, his first since Dec. 31, 2013, when he made 27 saves for the Winnipeg Jets against the Buffalo Sabres?

"Nothing really," he said. "The win is fantastic. That's all we play for. Maybe [the shutout is] a cherry on top."

Montoya wasn't exactly a Penguins-killer coming into this one; in eight previous games against them he was 2-4-1 with a 3.89 GAA and .888 save percentage.

But the 31-year-old stopped everything he faced Tuesday, turning aside four shots by Olli Maatta and three each by Trevor Daley, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz, Eric Fehr, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

It was the Canadiens' second consecutive shutout in their home opener; Price made 25 saves in a 3-0 defeat of the New York Rangers on Oct. 15, 2015. It marked the first time the Canadiens have had back-to-back shutouts in home openers since 1955 and 1956, when Jacques Plante did it, each season against the Boston Bruins.

With Price's likely return Thursday, Montoya will return to the backup role. And like any smart backup, Montoya said he'll work hard in practice and be ready when called upon.

"I feel like I've been trying to make a statement for a while," he said. "For me, it's just an opportunity to play. I don't try to overdo anything. I come out here, have fun and play my game and let the rest take care of itself."

He had one last matter to deal with before he took his dressing-room leave, a problem of water pooling in his skates and freezing his feet like he was playing pond hockey.

Looking into the problem was Patrick Langlois, Montreal's assistant equipment manager. Happily for Montoya, Langlois speaks English fluently.

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