Less than two weeks ago. Michal Neuvirth must have been wondering where he fit into the Capitals plans, both short-term and long-term.
Lets face it. It was not exactly a vote of confidence when Tomas Vokoun was forced to sit out a game against the San Jose Sharks with the flu on Feb. 13 and Hunter turned to AHL callup Braden Holtby.
And when you get just five of 25 starts from Dec. 28 through Feb. 20, well, you kind of get the message that the coach has little faith in your goaltending abilities.
Now, the tables have turned and Neuvirth suddenly finds himself as the Capitals No. 1 goalie. At least for today.
The 23-year-old native of Usti Labem, Czech Republic turned aside 28 of 30 shots, including big stops on Phil Kessel and Carl Gunnarsson, to help preserve an enormous 4-2 win Saturday night over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Air Canada Centre.
It was the first time all season Neuvirth has been given starts on consecutive nights and the first time all season hes won consecutive games.
Give Dale Hunter credit for rewarding Neuvirth for his strong play in Friday nights 4-1 win over Montreal. It was clear throughout Saturday nights game that Neuvirth was mentally and emotionally engaged in the action.
When he made a glove save on a Kessel breakaway in the third period he barked at his bench, imploring his teammates to tighten up defensively.
That is the confident Michal Neuvirth who went 27-12-4 in 48 appearances last season and earned the starting job heading into the playoffs. This season Neuvirth has appeared in just 25 games and is 8-9-3. His save percentage (.903) is down from last season (.914) and his goals-against average (2.87) is up (2.45 last season).
If Hunter continues to reward players on a game-by-game basis and hes given every indication he will the starting job between the pipes is now his to lose over the final 21 games.
That stretch continues Tuesday night against the Islanders when the Caps begin a five-game homestand that continues with games against the Devils, Flyers, Hurricanes and Lightning.