The Flyers were a major disappointment in Game 7 against the Islanders. Not because they lost, 4-0, in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But because of the way they lost. Take away the first eight or nine minutes, and they were totally outplayed and outworked. That should never happen in the playoffs, let alone a Game 7.
Hey, you never know when you are going to get so close to being in the conference finals, so you need to take advantage when the opportunity arises.
That’s why Ivan Provorov, the Flyers’ top defenseman, gave a long pause Monday when asked if he would consider this a successful season. His answer came straight from the heart.
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Provorov knows the Flyers had a terrific regular season and they emerged as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the round-robin tournament.
But even nine days after the Game 7 loss to the Islanders, he couldn’t mask his disappointment.
“I mean, it might be tough to say right now that it was a successful season,” he said.
But then his mood lightened when he thought back to where the Flyers were last season — without a playoff berth and with a 37-37-8 record — and just how much they improved. They had 82 points last season and were on pace for 106 this year.
“I think compared to last year, it was a massive step forward,” Provorov said in a conference call with reporters. “We grew as a team. We added new pieces last summer who helped us a lot this year. We kept getting better throughout the year. To be honest, when the pause happened, it was unfortunate because I think we were playing our best hockey. We were clicking on all cylinders."
The Flyers were the NHL’s hottest team when the coronavirus outbreak caused the NHL to suspend play March 12 and, eventually, declare the regular season completed. They had won nine of 10 games at the time. When the season resumed 4 1/2 months later, they won all three games in the round-robin tournament and it didn’t appear the layoff had hurt them.
But they struggled to beat lowly Montreal in the conference quarterfinals, then were outplayed by the Islanders and were fortunate to force the series to go to seven games.
“I think we could have gone further, could have played a lot better in some areas,” Provorov said. “I think there’s a lot of positives and a few negative things that didn’t work out in the bubble [in Toronto] and it cost us in the playoffs.”
In the playoffs, “we weren’t as good at responding after getting scored on … like we did throughout the whole year,” he said. “We weren’t as consistent.”
Provorov was asked if he thought the team needed to make subtle or major changes to get to the next level — or perhaps none at all.
“I don’t think we have to make huge [changes],” he said. “We have a good team. We have great chemistry. We have lots of young guys who are ready to help. We just overall didn’t perform to the best of our abilities as a team, and I think if we played as we could, we would have went way further than we did.”
Like his team, Provorov, who had a subpar year in 2018-19, made great strides this season.
“Last year, it’s hard to judge anyone on how they did because we went through so many changes,” he said of the 2018-19 season, one in which the Flyers replaced their coach and general manager and used an NHL-record eight goalies because of injuries and ineffectiveness. “Our team game wasn’t there all year, and it’s kind of hard to judge how anyone played that year.”
Playing alongside veteran Matt Niskanen this season stabilized Provorov. And the Flyers.
“He’s a very experienced and super steady. He does everything well, so it was easy to find chemistry with him right away," Provorov said. "I think we helped each other, and I’m looking forward to next year and playing with him.”
Comcast Spectacor, the Flyers' parent company, announced Monday it had reached an agreement to sell three of its Skate Zones — the ones in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsauken and Atlantic City — to Black Bear Sports Group.
Murry Gunty, founder and chief executive officer of Black Bear Sports, said that he was “thrilled to expand our portfolio of rinks” and that his company wanted to “make an impact in the communities” in which the rinks are located.
Former Flyers captain Keith Primeau, who initiated the talks with Comcast Spectacor, will be a minority owner in the acquisition and will lead the strategic vision of the three facilities.
“I have seen up close the rich tradition of youth hockey in this region,” Primeau said in a statement, “and have experienced it from every angle, including coaching, parenting and operations.”
Comcast Spectacor will continue to own and operate the Skate Zone in Voorhees, where the Flyers hold practices and training camp.
Maybe Primeau can give them some advice on how to run their power play?
Just a thought.
Oct. 6 and 7: NHL’s virtual draft.
Oct. 9: Free-agency period opens at noon.
Since G (Claude Giroux) has a no-trade clause and two years left on his contract, do you see his role changing on the Flyers when the influx of young talent start making their way on the team? — @GaryStachowicz via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Gary. I do see Giroux’s role changing, maybe as early as next season. I think his minutes will start being reduced, and I can see Oskar Lindblom (if healthy) or Joel Farabee being the No. 1 left winger in the near future and Giroux dropping in the lineup.
Giroux still has something left in the tank, especially on the power play, but the time is approaching for the Flyers to get younger on their top line.