VANCOUVER -- The Florida Panthers' Roberto Luongo knows there are questions about his status as a 37-year-old No. 1 goaltender coming off hip surgery in May, and also realizes the questions didn't die down after the Panthers signed unrestricted free agent goalie James Reimer to a five-year contract July 1.
Luongo, who made 23 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, admitted to doubts of his own about how he might be affected by the first serious injury of a career that is in its 18th NHL season, worries that didn't go away completely until Saturday, his final preseason game. But he never questioned his ability to continue playing at a high level into his late 30s. If anything, Luongo feels he is getting better, calling last season his best despite tearing his hip labrum in early March.
He had 35 wins, the most he's had in a season since 2010-11, and he had a 2.35 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and four shutouts in 62 games.
"Technically it was definitely the best I've ever played, there is no doubt about that," Luongo said. "I felt I was more in control than ever as far as not ending up on my back or my stomach as much especially."
Video: NJD@FLA: Luongo robs Greene with a great glove save
If anecdotal evidence from Luongo and opinions from opposing goaltender coaches who say last season was his best isn't enough, the numbers show Luongo is bucking the trend of goalies declining past the age of 30.
Luongo had a .937 even-strength save percentage last season that matches his career best from 2003-04, when he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. And it's an improvement from the .932 even-strength save percentage he had in 2014-15. And his numbers since being traded back to the Panthers from the Vancouver Canucks on March 4, 2014 include a .935 save percentage at even strength and a .922 in all situations, well above a .919 career save percentage that ranks seventh all-time among goaltenders to play at least 250 games.
"It's just work and trying to be the best at your craft," Luongo said. "Even though I am 37 and a lot of people don't look at me as being one of the top goalies in the League anymore, for me that passion is still there and wanting to be the best is still there. I work to improve my game every day, and the day I feel I don't need to do that anymore will probably be the day I retire."
Luongo doesn't see that day coming anytime soon, even if he was worried about his surgically repaired hip throughout an intense summer of rehabilitation.
"Right now I don't feel anything on the ice so that's great," Luongo said. "The thing for me is just feeling as good as I was before the injury. That was my worry, as far as being able to get back to the same level of play as before considering my age. I didn't know what to expect to be honest with you. This is the first time I have had anything bad like this. So I was a little nervous going into the last preseason game about how I would feel. But once it all came together and I started playing I felt really good and in control for 99 percent of the game. Even my brother, after watching the highlights, said it was the best he has seen me as far as control wise."
That would be younger brother Leo Luongo, who was hired as Florida's goaltender development coach this summer after three seasons working with Lugano in Switzerland. He is one of several coaches keeping Roberto ahead of the curve technically. The list includes Colorado Avalanche goalie coach Francois Allaire, who Luongo worked with extensively during the NHL work stoppage in 2012-13, and Ian Clark, who coached Luongo during his first stint in Florida and with the Vancouver Canucks, and privately at times during the summer. It was Clark that taught Luongo the reverse-VH post-integration tactic that Luongo has called key to his late-career improvements.
Current Panthers goaltending coach Robb Tallas also has played a big role since Luongo's return to Florida. They have worked together five days a week starting in August each summer since before the start of the 2014-15 season, something Luongo thinks is critical to his success.
"Back when I played in Vancouver a lot of times I was just running my own practices in Florida in the summer," said Luongo, who kept a house in Florida during his time in Vancouver. "I couldn't have somebody there all the time, but over the last few years I have been working with Robbie every day. It's such a benefit to have him there in the summer time as you try to get ready for the season. That's actually the most important time. That's when you can add things to your game or work on things you don't have time to during the season to develop or improve. To have him there from early August all the way through training camp is a huge benefit to me."
For Luongo, it's always been about finding anything he thinks can help him on the ice, and then working as hard, if not harder, than any other goalie in the NHL to implement it.
"It's not just one thing from one person," Luongo said. "Everyone has added a piece to the puzzle."
That includes his new goaltending partner. Others might have seen Reimer's arrival as a sign that the Panthers believed an aging Luongo, coming off hip surgery, might be on the decline. But Luongo said he was part of the process that brought Reimer to Florida, and welcomes the chance to get more rest amid a condensed schedule this season. He's also looking forward to picking the brain of Reimer, who like Luongo actively searches out new techniques and tactics.
"I enjoy working with James too," Luongo said. "He's very technical and I enjoy that. I enjoy working with a guy who is technical and you can bounce ideas off each other and stuff like that."
For Luongo, that has been one of the keys to improving with age, something he is confident can continue even after surgery.