Alex Ovechkin on Flyers' Ivan Provorov's future: 'I see him as an All-Star'
There were two plays in succession in the first period of Wednesday's game that seemed to sum up how difficult it is to be a rookie defenseman and play against the Capitals.
First-line winger (and U.S. Olympian) T.J. Oshie attempted to enter the Flyers' zone by flipping the puck past Ivan Provorov. But the 20-year-old Flyer coolly denied Oshie's attempt and pushed the puck back to center ice.
Mere seconds later, Caps star Alex Ovechkin had the puck on his stick and came barreling past Provorov, holding the rookie off like an offensive tackle blocking a cornerback. Ovechkin swung around the Flyers' net and fed a pass in front for an excellent chance. The Capitals didn't score on the play, but it showed how they can come at you in waves.
"They're a good team," Provorov said dejectedly. "We battled hard, played hard. Some of the games go this way. You play hard but just can't get the win."
The Capitals are 27 points ahead of the Flyers in the standings. They are in a different stratosphere up and down the roster. As Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said afterward, there are "no breaks" among the Caps four lines of forwards.
But Provorov, who has now played three times against the Capitals, has caught the eye of his countrymen in the other locker room.
"It's always nice to see guys from Russia – especially defensemen – play well," said Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had two goals for the Capitals in Wednesday night's 4-1 win. "From my point of view, (Provorov) has a lot of trust from the coach. The coach is giving him a lot of chances to play."
Provorov, at 21 minutes, 37 seconds, is the only rookie to lead his team in average ice time. He nearly scored his sixth goal of the season on Wednesday, but the puck hit the crossbar after deflecting off Washington goalie Braden Holtby. The Wells Fargo Center horn mistakenly blared as the Flyers had their second goal of the night taken off the board.
"I didn't hear a sound (of the puck hitting the crossbar), so I thought it went in," Provorov said.
Provorov had four shots on goal and three more attempts blocked in 20:23. Only fellow rookie Shayne Gostisbehere, with 20:40, played more among the Flyers defensemen.
Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov and Provorov have the same agent, Mark Gandler. As such, Orlov has kept tabs on the young Flyer.
"You can see that he's growing every game this season as a player," said Orlov, who is in his fifth year with the Caps. "He's a good skater, a good puck-mover. You can see that he's going to be a big part of the Philadelphia Flyers in the future … It's good for Russia to have a defenseman like that for the national team."
Whether NHL players are permitted to play in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea has yet to be decided. Ovechkin, who is medal-less in three attempts, already has said he's playing regardless. Does Provorov have the potential to join him?
"I see a very skilled defenseman, (a very good) puck mover," said Ovechkin, whose two assists on Wednesday came while Provorov was on the Flyers' bench. "Obviously, he's still young, but he can be a very good defenseman in the league. I see him as an All-Star. Obviously, he has to work hard to get on that level … It's good for Russia that we still produce very good, solid defensemen."