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2017-18 Player Review: Michal Neuvirth bounced back, but got injured again

When healthy, Neuvirth was the perhaps the Flyers’ best option between the pipes, though the field was lackluster.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Michal Neuvirth was both hurt and terrible in 2016-17, but the veteran rebounded this past season posting solid numbers, though he still missed time due to injury. It’s been a broken record throughout his nine-year NHL career on the injury front, and last year was no different with Neuvirth missing a handful of games due to various lower body ailments. He spent most of December on injured reserve and later suffered a groin injury in late February that sidelined him essentially until the playoffs.

The groin injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, and could very well have sunk the Flyers’ season. Brian Elliott was already sidelined for six weeks at the time, Neuvirth came up lame against the Rangers, forcing General Manager Ron Hextall to go out and trade for Petr Mrazek. The Flyers ended up getting passable goaltending to keep their playoff hopes alive, despite Mrazek’s best attempts to submarine them, but that was more thanks to Alex Lyon than Mrazek. Nevertheless, the Flyers weren’t counting on having to go out and trade for a goalie, but Neuvirth’s fragile groin ended up costing the Flyers a third-round pick.

Neuvirth was able to return to the net for a road start against Colorado in late March, but would leave that contest after just 28 minutes and would be out until Game 4 against the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. He relieved Elliott in that game and was excellent in helping the Flyers stave off elimination in Game 5 with a 30-save performance. In Game 6, the Flyers blew a 4-2 lead and eventually lost 8-5 to close out their season with Neuvirth allowing seven goals on 27 shots.

Overall it was a disappointing season for the 30-year-old, mostly due to his inability to stay healthy once again, despite seeing a nice rebound in terms of play quality. Neuvirth’s 2017-18 season can also been seen as another lost opportunity to assert himself as more than a backup goaltender. He was given a prime chance to steal the net away when Elliott went down in February but couldn’t stay on the ice long enough to do it.

Now 30, and with a lengthy injury history and so-so numbers, Neuvirth is nothing more than a backup at this point of his career. That said, when he is healthy he’s a darn good backup, we just wish he could actually be relied upon to do that consistently.

By the Numbers

Basic Stats

Games Played Sv% GAA Shutouts
Games Played Sv% GAA Shutouts
22 0.915 2.6 1

Though nearly anything would be better than what Neuvirth gave the Flyers in 2016-17, the veteran was solid when healthy in 2017-18. After posting 2.82 goals-against average and a sub .900 save percentage in 2016-17, Neuvirth worked to a .915 save percentage and a 2.60 goals-against average this past season. He also posted a 3.27 GSAA (Goals saved above average), a marked improvement from the -0.32 he had the year before.

As you can see, he was pretty reliable from medium to long distance shot attempts, but struggled in the high-danger areas of the ice. Most of those seemed to come on those maddening wrap-around goals that he seemed to give up every game. At one point this season the Flyers had two goalies who had no idea what to do when the puck went below the goal line, yet they still made the playoffs. That’s pretty incredible in hindsight.

Neuvirth also had the best save percentage and goals-against average of any Flyers netminder during the regular season, though both his marks in those categories fall more under league average than anything special. In other words, Neuvirth was essentially the smartest kid in a relatively dumb class.

Neuvirth was indeed below average on the penalty kill, where his 81.03 save percentage leaves much to be desired. Elliott wasn’t far behind with an 81.02, but clearly the Flyers’ goalies struggled yet again down a man. We’ve covered the Flyers’ penalty killing woes a bit over the past year, but Neuvirth certainly wasn’t helping either.

While he didn’t have a bad campaign numbers-wise, the fact that he can’t be counted on will continue holding him back.

Three Burning Questions

Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?

Neuvirth was expected to split time with Elliott in the crease and form a solid, if unspectacular, duo and that ended up being the case. Though he couldn’t stay healthy, he did post numbers more in line with career marks after a dreadful 2016-17 season.

It’s hard to hold injuries against someone, but when they happen as frequently as they do for Michal Neuvirth, it’s okay to say that he was disappointing because he’s of no help to the Flyers when he’s on injured reserve.

What do we expect from this player next season?

Next season, Neuvirth figures to return in a similar capacity as last year, being a time share option with Elliott or as Elliott’s backup. If healthy — and that’s a big if — the Flyers have one of the better backup goalies in the league in Neuvirth, and would benefit greatly from having him healthy for an entire season especially given Elliott’s age and own injury issue from last season.

If Neuvirth can give the Flyers 30+ games with a .915 save percentage or better and a goals-against average around 2.60 again, I think we’d all be ecstatic. It’d be too much to ask for him to stay healthy all year, but the above would be just peachy and would also give him some trade value given his free agent status after the 2018-19 season. The presence of Carter Hart in the AHL, the emergence of Alex Lyon in his limited NHL time a year ago, and the Flyers’ sudden logjam of netminders in the system make Neuvirth pretty expendable.

What would we like to see this player improve on?

For the love of God, just stop giving up damn wrap-arounds man. It’s 2018 literally nobody scores on those anymore.

But for real, we’d really just like to have Neuvirth stay healthy for a change. The man has talent and ability, but just can’t stay on the ice. We know that he’s not Carey Price, but Neuvirth can be a valuable piece on the roster if he can keep himself upright for any length of time.

Perhaps having surgery on both hips this offseason will aid Neuvirth in staying off the injury report, but changes in his training regimen and previous surgeries have done little to change anything to this point, so we’re skeptical.

*Statistics via Corsica.Hockey,*

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