Bruce Boudreau's decision to start Michal Neuvirth in net for the team's home opener Saturday night was one that raised quite a few eyebrows (and a temper or two) around the League; after all, Tomas Vokoun had been anointed the number one guy before training camp even started, and the Opening Night start - especially when it comes at home - typically goes along with that title. We all know perfectly well that putting Neuvirth in over Vokoun for that first game was essentially a reward for an excellent training camp by the young netminder, as well as for a '10-'11 season in which he was easily one of the team's MVPs. But that didn't stop the murmurs about a brewing goalie controversy in the District.
There is no controversy, of course. To question Vokoun's claim on the starter's role is to ignore the body of work that supports it, regardless of who opened the season (and despite the fact that Neuvirth will get his fair share of games). The only problem the Caps have in net is deciding between two extremely capable goaltenders on any given night.
Which brings us to the fact that, while no controversy is looming, there is still a decision to be made about who steps onto the ice first Thursday night when the Caps take on their biggest rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On the one hand there's Neuvirth, who put together a 62-minute, 28-save performance against the Carolina Hurricanes to earn his first win of the season. He is, for all intents and purposes, the "hot hand" right now and likely gives the Caps the best chance to win - not to mention the fact that in three games against Pittsburgh last season, Neuvirth had a sparkling 2-0-1 record, with two shutouts, a .977 save percentage and a GAA of 0.65. If Boudreau's continuing his run of rewarding strong play with ice time, Neuvirth's the right choice.
On the other hand, while Vokoun's first game as a Washington Capital was a bit of an adventure (to be generous), he's still very much an elite goalie, and there's something to be said for giving him a chance at a little redemption. What better way to do that than to throw him right back in net against a bitter rival? If you want to send a message to a guy that he's The Guy, if you want to soothe some hurt feelings over that opening night "snub", and if you want to build up his confidence (which is key even for someone as veteran and experienced as Vokoun), this is how you do it.
So here's the question we'll probably ask a few times this season (again, because we're lucky, folks...not because there's a controversy) - if you're Bruce Boudreau, who is your starting goaltender for tomorrow's tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins?