Something is wrong with Ivan Provorov.
Nothing is wrong with Ivan Provorov.
He's usually not the reason they lost. But he hasn't been the reason they have won very often this season, either, and last year at this time that simply was not the case.
If you believe there is nothing wrong with Ivan Provorov, which his head coach intermittently argues in between mentioning some of his mistakes, then read no further. If you think there might be something to this, something to examine further, well then join the discussion.
For me, this is not about a third-year player slumping. Provorov has been too mature, too battle-tested in his two seasons with the Flyers for that to make much sense. Also, his mistakes are less about decisions than they are about puck control and strength. The puck sometimes does not make it to its target as quickly as we've been accustomed to seeing from him. Not always. But enough to notice. He loses pucks in battles more than we are accustomed to seeing, too.
He has been paired with several partners, so blaming it on who he is with doesn't seem to work either.
For the record, Provorov has repeatedly denied there is anything physically wrong, just as Wayne Simmonds denied it all of last year and Shayne Gostisbehere denied it the year before that. His responses to questions about mistakes almost always finish with, "I can play better," or "We can play better."
What do the raw stats say? His points are almost identical to a year ago; his 17 giveaways project to be actually fewer over a season than the 92 he had last season.
But he has also been credited with just one takeaway thus far. Last season, he finished with 26. His blocked-shot total is down, and, almost a quarter of a way through the season, his shot total of 29 isn't going to get him near the 203 he registered in his 17-goal, 41-point 2017-18. His 28 hits so far won't get him close to the 148 he achieved last season, either.
So what is it? If anything?
Theory 1: His left shoulder, which sustained a Grade 3 AC joint separation in the playoffs last spring, still is not as strong as it once was. This might explain the unusual sight of him struggling to settle pucks at times, having the puck knocked easily from his stick, or having his passes badly miss their mark. Nonsurgical recovery time for a Grade 3 separation, in which the collarbone separates completely from the ligaments in the shoulder, can be as much as 12 weeks, according to thesteadmanclinic.com. But Provorov's offseason workout regime is notoriously extreme (and secretive), so only he knows if he pushed too hard to get back to full strength. He wouldn't be the first player to do so (see Simmonds and Giroux).
Here's Hakstol after Tuesday night's 2-1 loss to Florida, in which Provorov more or less tripped on a bad pass to his feet from Travis Konecny along the blue line, forcing him to trip Panthers center Mike Hoffman to avoid a length-of-the-ice breakaway:
"I thought early in the year that was an issue,'' the coach said when asked about his defenseman's puck control. "I've got to be honest with you, I haven't seen a lot of that in the last stretch here. You've got to remember when you're playing against the top guys every night, you make a mistake and it can look bad pretty quick. Provy hasn't been in many of those situations where he looked bad over the last couple of weeks. He's been pretty solid."
Hmm. That's not how Hakstol sounded as recently as Thursday, after a stick-checked Provorov twice fed an Arizona Coyote in the slot with an errant clearing pass, the second producing a mad scramble that ultimately resulted in Arizona's first goal.
"We had some uncharacteristic play and turnovers from some guys, especially in the first half of the hockey game. And that put us in a bad spot," Hakstol said after that 5-4 overtime victory.
It seemed clear, then, that he was thinking of Provorov as one of those some guys.
But whatever. It's not Hakstol's style to throw any of his players under the bus, particularly one that he entrusts with more than 23 minutes of ice time on most nights. And there is some truth to what he says: Provorov has played better lately than he had earlier, particularly during that successful West Coast swing. There were also blips then, however, which leads to the next theory.
Theory 2: There is something else wrong. If form holds true, we might not know the answer to this until next spring. That's when we found out Simmonds entered last season with a core muscle injury. With the binoculars on him for chunks of last Thursday's game, it seemed peculiar that Provorov often slid his left hand out of the glove and held it in his lap. But admittedly, this is fishing for something.
Anything, really. Even if the goaltending somehow rights itself, it's hard to imagine the Flyers making much noise this season if their best defenseman isn't their best defenseman.
Provorov's M.O. over his first two seasons was to be someone who restored order to chaos. The Flyers simply can't afford this version, in which he, at times, adds to it.