Ivan Provorov didn’t ease into the Flyers’ first game in 4½ months on Tuesday in Toronto, a 3-2 overtime win in an exhibition against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The soft-spoken Russian defenseman played in all situations, accumulated a game-high 25 minutes, 39 seconds of ice time, contributed an assist and a plus-2 rating, fired four shots, and helped hold Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby without a shot.
In other words, Provorov, a physical-fitness addict, looked ready to resume the season.
“I don’t think he’s missed a beat,” said Matt Niskanen, Provorov’s defensive partner, after Wednesday’s practice in Toronto. “He’s confident with the puck, smooth skating, strong in the corners. He seems like he’s got his feel for the game. It seems like he never left.”
Provorov, 23, is fortunate. He was one of the few Flyers to skate regularly during the long break caused by the pandemic. The four-year NHL veteran was able to skate at a private rink near Wilkes-Barre and work out five to six hours a day, which was shorter than his 11-hour daily summer routine.
“I’m not going to lie. I felt good out there,” Provorov, sporting a long beard (like Niskanen) said about Tuesday’s game. “I think the tempo was great. Our team did a great job playing fast and playing our game from the puck drop. I think we played the same way we played in March.”
The Flyers were the NHL’s hottest team when the season was stopped March 12 by the coronavirus outbreak, winning nine of their last 10 games.
Provorov helped keep Crosby, who was recovering from an unspecified injury, from being a factor in Tuesday’s tune-up for Sunday’s round-robin tournament game against Boston.
“The kid’s a stud,” said Niskanen, 33. “I thought he was really good. Hopefully he keeps getting better, the way he has all year. The old fart next to him will try to keep up.”
Provorov had an outstanding season and won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as Flyers’ best defenseman. He led their defensemen in goals (13), points (36), and time on ice (24:51 per game), and also paced NHL defensemen with seven power-play goals.
When the NHL Network listed the league’s top 20 defensemen recently, Provorov was conspicuous by his absence.
“I’ve seen the list,” Provorov said. “To be honest, it’s their opinion. It is what it is. I don’t play the game of hockey to make some sort of list. I play the game because I love it and want to win. I love spending time with my teammates, on and off the ice. That’s the reason I’m playing the game of hockey.”
Provorov’s game improved with the addition of Niskanen in the offseason. The veteran has stabilized Provorov and given him more chances to jump into the offense.