VOORHEES, N.J. - As much as the Carter Hart crowd wants to see the organization's top goaltending prospect backstopping his way to the NHL, Michal Neuvirth is now the one Phantom who can provide short-term relief in net for the Flyers.
Wednesday, the Flyers loaned Neuvirth to their AHL affiliate for a conditioning stint and he's expected to start for the Phantoms against the Wolf Pack in Hartford.
In speaking with Neuvirth on Tuesday, you could sense that in the back of his mind even he has reservations that his body will hold up for the remainder of the Flyers season.
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"I feel good, trying to stay positive and keep working hard and believing it's going to pay off," Neuvirth said. "Obviously, (injury concerns) are there, but I'm trying to stay positive. Just focusing on my game and worry about the puck and whatever happens, happens."
With Neuvirth, it's not whatever happens, but typically when it happens. It's hard not to feel the Flyers' goaltender will have an eventual setback, as he's been plagued by a myriad of ailments throughout his three-plus seasons in Philadelphia. Currently, he's been working his way back into the Flyers' crease since tweaking a "lower-body" injury on Sep. 21, the morning he was scheduled to play for the Flyers against the Islanders at the PPL Center.
If Neuvirth earns a passing grade on his AHL assignment, he could rejoin the Flyers as soon as Saturday, when the team hosts the New York Islanders.
General manager Ron Hextall believes the team's 30th-ranked save percentage of .864 is a product of inconsistent goaltending, but more so, the inadequate defense around the net.
"I'm not going to let the goalies off the hook and say they can't be better; they can," Hextall said. "There have been a lot off prime opportunities that we've allowed this year. Too many. In fairness to the goalies, we need to do a better job in front of them."
If that defense doesn't improve dramatically, Neuvirth could be the best option with the ability to make spectacular saves when things break down. He even has a knack for stealing a game, which the Flyers could certainly benefit from right now.
For the organization, there's no long-term consequences to milking what good hockey Neuvirth has left. He's in the final year of a two-year contract and Hextall will have no desire to re-sign the 30-year-old goaltender next summer. If Neuvirth can stay healthy, he should be able to challenge Brian Elliott for the bulk of playing time.
While this recovery has been one of Neuvirth's more frustrating throughout his 10-year career, he still found a way to put it into perspective.
"For me, the most important thing is that my family is healthy," Neuvirth said.
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