Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov has regained his mojo since All-Star break | Sam Carchidi
At one point this season, the Flyers' young defenseman was a minus-17. But in the first three games after the break, Provorov is looking like his former self.
Maybe the All-Star break and a trip to the Turks and Caicos beaches cleared Ivan Provorov’s head.
Maybe having fellow Russian Mikhail Vorobyev, who was recalled from the minors recently, gave Provorov someone with whom he could share his thoughts and helped him get more comfortable.
Maybe eight days away from hockey made Provorov the healthiest he’s been since he suffered a separated left shoulder in last year’s playoffs.
Whatever the reason, Provorov has been a different player since the Flyers returned from their bye week.
In short, he has resembled the defenseman who looked like a budding All-Star last year – and not the player who struggled mightily in this season’s first 48 games, when he was plagued by stickhandling problems and poor decisions. At one point, he was minus-17 on the season.
Yes, the Flyers’ unstable goaltending, which has since been rectified by Carter Hart’s emergence, contributed to Provorov’s plus-minus numbers, but clearly he wasn’t himself.
That was then.
This is now: In the first three games after the break, Provorov played 28 minutes, 3 seconds; 26:02; and a career-high 30:20, respectively, and anchored the defense while joining the rush and creating scoring chances.
“He’s getting up in the play and being more assertive,” interim coach Scott Gordon said the other day. “… I think he’s making the perfect option by moving forward, as opposed to being stationary.”
Going to Turks and Caicos during the break was a much-needed diversion, Provorov said.
“It was nice to get away and recharge mentally and physically,” said Provorov, whose team took a six-game winning streak into Saturday, during which he was plus-4.
Provorov, paired with Travis Sanheim during the last six weeks, said it’s easier when the team is playing well. "That’s why I guess you can say we look like ourselves, because we’re winning and the team is playing better.”
Under Gordon, the Flyers recently made some defensive tweaks in the neutral zone, abandoning a 1-2-2 and going with a 1-3-1 forecheck that has made it more difficult for opponents to enter the offensive zone cleanly.
“It took us some time to adjust, and now it’s paying off,” Provorov said. “We’ve given up less goals.”
As for having Vorobyev around, Provorov said “it’s always nice to have somebody from your home country who speaks your native tongue. It’s nice to have him here, and I try to help him as much as I can.”
Provorov, 22, is a pending restricted free agent, and while he says a potential long-term deal hasn’t been a distraction, club president Paul Holmgren said, “You’d have to be Superman for it not to have some effect.”
When asked Thursday if he was looking for a shorter “bridge” deal or a long-term contract, Provorov brushed aside the question. “My job is to play hockey and perform,” he said. “I’m focusing on hockey only.”
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald said there is increased pressure during a contract year.
“Obviously, he’s a much better player than I was going into that situation, so it’s hard for me to relate,” MacDonald said with a chuckle.
Anytime your contract is almost up, especially when you’re younger, “I think you want to maximize yourself and show your worth. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to dwell on that, but still you’re going to think about it. You want to do well and help the team win. It’s not easy. Sometimes, you might try to do a little too much. But he’s been playing great lately and he just has to let his play talk for itself.”
Earlier in the season, MacDonald said, everyone on the team was guilty of trying to do too much when the Flyers were near the bottom of the NHL standings.
Hart’s development and Gordon’s communication with the players have given the players, including Provorov, a jolt of confidence.
“Now I think he’s really settled in, in terms of decision-making and moving pucks,” MacDonald said. “He’s always been a strong defender, but I think he’s making real good decisions with the puck and it’s allowing him to join the rush and be that next wave of attack.”
And looking like the guy who last year scored 17 goals, tied for the most among NHL defensemen.