Ivan Provorov Does Not Need a Reset, He Needs Help

Nov 10, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov (9) carries the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 10, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov (9) carries the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /
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Flyers Fandom is a fickle beast, filled with hot takes and irrational exuberance. It has had its share of  franchise saviors, coach killers, and ascending, and then falling, idols. Flyers fans have turned their collective stink eye in the direction of Ivan Provorov, casting him, along with most of the Flyers’ defensemen as saboteurs of what has been to date an underwhelming season.

Provorov was once thought to be the center piece of an improving corps of defensemen. That seemed cemented when he was paired with Matt Niskanen in the 2019-20 season. Though Niskanen was unquestionably diminished, and had some problems defending in his own end, he was still a plus skater who would read plays correctly and most times find himself in the “right spot”. Provorov looked extremely comfortable with the pairing, and the duo ended the season with a 5 v 5 positive goal differential, even after being matched up against their opposition’s top forward talent.

Last season things were different. Niskanen retired, and his roster spot was occupied by Erik Gustafsson.  Though Provorov did not often play with the mistake prone Gustafsson, the centerpiece defenseman was forced to find a new partner. That was Justin Braun. Over the course of the season, Braun and Provorov  broke even in 5 v 5 goal differential, giving and getting 20. But it was plain to see that Provorov looked much less comfortable with Braun than when he was paired with Niskanen. Braun has some positive attributes, but he did not elevate Provorov’s game the way Niskanen had.

When these bodies of work are compared to the Provorov that we saw in overtime against the Kraken, there is a noticeable difference. Provorov was confident, aggressive and asserting himself on offense. It is true that 3-on-3 is a different game, but it also shows the comfort Provorov felt with his line mates in that extra frame, as compared to his nightly 5v5 reality. His line mates were forwards Cam Atkinson and Kevin Hayes, not exactly Selke candidates. It speaks volumes that Provorov played more confidently flanked by above average forwards than with any of his defensive partners this season.

While Provorov’s play has not been consistent, his demeanor has been. He is always going to tend to his defensive end first. The goals that Provorov gives up are rarely, if ever, from him cheating towards offense. There is very little river boat gambler in him. His decision to activate against the Kraken was not a wild spin of the wheel but a calculation based on how much he trusted the players with whom he shared the ice.

Provorov, since Niskanen, has been put into a “make it work” situation, asked to dominate the game while covering up for a number of his partners deficiencies. Fittingly, Provorov’s play has embodied the nervousness of a parent whose toddler is playing too close to the highway. He is driven to distraction by the specter of disaster, shading a step or two closer to his partner to save the day. This is not how a talent of Provorov’s magnitude should be used and is yet another demonstrative management failure by team Comcast.

It is true that the front office has tried to get help for Provorov, the acquisition of Ryan Ellis proves as much. But Ellis is still out, and seems not at all close to returning. Fletcher has tried to make other moves to improve the defense, Rasmus Ristolainen as an example. But rather than looking at what the big right hander brings individually, the first question should be “How would he work with Provorov?”    Risto, as much as I like him, is at times mistake prone in coverage, and like Braun, he can be careless with puck decisions. Players with these weaknesses make Provorov less aggressive, which hinders his ability to dominate.

The blame towards Provorov is largely miscast as the organization is failing him much the same way it has repeatedly failed Giroux over the last decade.  Provorov is pulling his weight and more. He is fortified by a fringe and failing blueline cast and is in a constant state of defensive zone worry caused by the play of his defensive team mates.