WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets wanted some redemption against the Buffalo Sabres, and they earned it with a 3-0 win Tuesday at MTS Centre.
The Sabres defeated the Jets 4-2 loss at Buffalo on Dec. 17, one of several Winnipeg losses against a team at or near the bottom of the NHL standings.
In the rematch, Keaton Ellerby and Jacob Trouba scored for the Jets before Anthony Peluso finished off the Sabres by hitting the empty net with 1:28 left. Goaltender Al Montoya won his sixth in a row and made 27 saves for his second shutout of the season.
The Jets (19-18-5) have won three in a row for the first time since a four-game run from Nov. 8-15. The victory capped an up-and-down 7-6-1 December that included road losses to the Sabres, Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers, plus a winless three-game homestand against Central Division opponents. The Jets are 5-11-3 against the Central Division but beat the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche before blanking Buffalo.
"I thought we did the necessary things to win," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I thought that Montoya played a really strong game, and I'm happy we've won three in a row."
Montoya started for the second game in a row after defeating the Avalanche with 33 saves on Sunday. Montoya, who is challenging Ondrej Pavelec for the No. 1 job, is a strong possibility to become the first goaltender other than Pavelec to start three consecutive games since the franchise relocated to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. The Jets begin a three-game road trip Thursday against the Ottawa Senators.
Montoya has an 8-2-1 record in 13 games to go with his 1.85 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
"Confidence, I mean, as a goalie that might be your No. 1 strength or weakness," Montoya said. "For me it's just about doing the right things in practice and working hard. Like I said earlier, the team is doing a great job in front of me. Maybe I'm seeing the first shot but after that, clearing rebounds out, we're communicating well in the defensive zone, and we're putting together victories here right now."
The Sabres (11-25-4) used the win on home ice against the Jets to put together a 3-1-1 run in five games before heading here. Their two-game road trip wraps up Thursday against Minnesota. Jhonas Enroth made 23 saves.
With the Sabres last in the League with 1.65 goals per game, Enroth and his goaltending partner Ryan Miller often must turn in nearly flawless games in order for Buffalo to have a chance to win. Enroth owns a 2.60 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage but is 1-8-3 this season.
"I don't know what the answer to that is," Sabres forward Drew Stafford said. "Obviously the statistics are there, but at the same time it's just unfortunate we couldn't find a way to get one in. Unfortunately, they buried their chances."
"There is nothing fun about losing," Stafford continued. "The life in here kind of got sucked out of here earlier in the year. We're starting to get a little bit of confidence back. It helps when you win."
The Jets survived Blake Wheeler's double minor early in the first period and several in-close offensive chances for the Sabres before taking a 1-0 lead at 10:42 on Ellerby's second goal of the season, a bouncing left-point shot that skipped past Enroth.
The Sabres nearly tied the game late in the first period when Marcus Foligno jammed a loose puck past Montoya as Stafford crashed into the net. The officials disallowed the goal, and video review was inconclusive in determining whether the net was dislodged before the puck crossed the goal line.
"If that goes our way, it's a different kind of game," Stafford said.
Buffalo limited the Jets to 14 shots past the game's midpoint, but the Jets held a 2-0 lead by the end of the second period after Trouba scored his third goal of the season on a low shot from above the right circle blocker-side past Enroth at 13:06.
While the Sabres rallied from a 2-0 deficit against the Jets on Dec. 17, late-game comebacks have been elusive for them: Buffalo is now 2-22-1 when trailing after two periods.
"We're the type of team where we can't have any kind of turnovers or mistakes and get caught trying to fight back, but our offense [has difficulty] scoring goals," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said.
After the game, Noel steered away from any talk of a goaltending controversy.
"I'm not trying to make too much of the goaltending situation," Noel replied when asked about Montoya's emergence.
"I'm fully aware of what Al Montoya is doing and how he is playing. He is playing well, and he played very well again [Tuesday]. You've got to give him full credit."
Noel would not divulge whether Montoya would start at Ottawa to begin the team's January schedule. Montoya went 5-0-0 with a 1.13 GAA and a .959 save percentage in December; Pavelec went 2-6-1 in 10 starts with a 3.87 GAA and an .863 save percentage.
"You can't lose sight of the fact that Pavelec is our starting goalie," Noel said. "That is not to say that Montoya is not going to play. Right now, we're just going to go with what we're going to go with, however that is."
"These things kind of go in cycles, and right now [Montoya] is riding a good cycle," Noel added. "I'm watching it, and I'm well aware of it. But I'm not losing fact of it that Pavelec is a very good goalie. I don't like to make it a bigger issue than it really is. To me, one guy is playing well, and the other guy has hit a bump in the road, and that's the way it goes. It happens with all of the players."