Michal Neuvirth is coming off a season to forget, but positive vibes are emerging as the veteran Flyers goaltender enters his third year with the team.
There was the birth of his first child, Emily, six days ago.
There is the fact that he enters the season totally healthy after a chilling in-game moment last April.
There is a better mind-set because, unlike last summer, when he was rehabbing from knee surgery, Neuvirth was able to work out in the offseason and feels more prepared as the Oct. 4 opener approaches.
“I think he’s been really sharp in the first couple of days of camp,” coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s sessions ended in Voorhees. “It looks to me like he’s done the work because he looks relaxed, he looks focused.”
Neuvirth had a career year in 2015-16 — an 18-8-4 record, a 2.27 goals-against average, and a .924 save percentage. But he never got into a rhythm last season, which was interrupted in November by a knee injury.
The Czech Republic native’s season ended when he collapsed on the ice during an April 1 game against New Jersey. Neuvirth was dehydrated, and he suffered a concussion when his head hit the ice.
“It was scary, but I’m back to 100 percent,” he said.
Neuvirth’s .891 save percentage last season was the worst among the 58 NHL goalies who played in at least 15 games, and he had a pedestrian 2.82 goals-against average.
Because he was rehabbing his knee, Neuvirth wasn’t able to work out much before last season. “I didn’t have as good of a summer as I needed to have,” said Neuvirth, whose fiancee, Karolina, is the sister of Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas. “And then in the World Cup, I got the No. 1 job, but the first game I gave up six goals to Canada, and that’s not the start you wanted.”
His confidence, he admitted, took a jolt.
“But that’s in the past,” he said. “I had a good summer and didn’t miss any time and I feel like my legs are stronger. I’ve been here since the beginning of August and working really hard and I feel good.”
Neuvirth, 29, whose team will start its exhibition season Sunday afternoon against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, is excited about the energy that the young prospects have provided in the first two days of camp.
“We have a lot of talented guys coming up,” he said. “They want to prove they can play in the NHL and we can build on that. We have great leadership here, and [combined] with the young kids, we can have a really good team.”
Neuvirth’s former goaltender partner, Steve Mason, signed as a free agent with Winnipeg and has been replaced by another veteran, Brian Elliott.
“I’m focused on myself and trying to get better each day,” Neuvirth said, “and I’m really excited to work with Brian. I always try to learn something new from everybody I play with. I’m going to watch him and how he prepares for the big night. I like to watch the other guy and learn from him.”
In the first two days of camp, Neuvirth and Elliott have competed in different sessions.
“Whenever you have a partner, you’re always looking to see what they’re doing and if they do anything differently,” Elliott said after his Saturday practice session. “You usually pick up parts of their game and vice versa. It’s kind of weird we haven’t skated together yet, but I’m sure [soon] we’ll be out there together.”
As for being a father, Neuvirth said, “Obviously having a daughter is an amazing feeling. My [fiancee] has her mom here and she’s going to help her and I can just focus on hockey.”
Neuvirth and Elliott will have lots of baby stories to share. Elliott became a first-time dad heading into last season, and he said there was an adjustment period as he juggled fatherhood and became acclimated to playing with a new team, Calgary. Elliott started last season slowly, then regrouped and led the Flames to a playoff berth.
Neuvirth didn’t have to uproot his family, so his juggling act shouldn’t be as difficult.