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Meltzer: Still Skating

Flyers contributor on why Ivan Provorov is already back on the ice preparing for next season

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

On April 18, 2019, shortly after new Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault finished meeting with the assembled media at his introductory press conference, a solitary hockey player stepped out on the ice below at the Skate Zone in Voorhees to do some light skating and to shoot a few dozen pucks. He was dressed in a Flyers warmup with an unbuckled helmet perched atop his head.

The player: Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov. Although the team's 2018-19 season had been over for a week, Provorov couldn't bear to stay away from the rink. 

Provorov's season, like that of the team as a whole, fell short of expectations. Although his play picked up in the second half, his season overall was not as consistently effective as it had been the previous campaign. The feeling did not sit will with him. 

"We're all disappointed in how it turned out, not making the playoffs and not playing the way we wanted as a team. I think I could have been better. I think everyone could have been better... There have been times where I've tried a little too much from a personal standpoint, from the team standpoint, and trying to do everything I can to help the team win. We're not perfect. None of us are perfect," he said during his Exit Day press conference on April 7.

Rather than pouting, Provorov has tried the make his third NHL season into a springboard toward ensuring better days ahead. 

"We're going to learn and get better. There were great games and times for the team and for myself. I think I got better; I'm a better player now than I was at the start of the season, and I think I'm only going to get better," he said.

The player said, without elaborating, that there are a few specific areas of his game that he wants to work on tightening up for next season. 

In his second NHL season, Provorov exploded for 17 goals and 41 points. His 17 goals, which tied him for the NHL league lead among defensemen, broke down as follows: 12 at even strength, three empty netters, and two power play goals.

As a second-season NHLer, Provorov was credited with 148 hits and 169 blocked shots. Provorov was charged with 92 giveaways; a fairly high number on the surface but not excessive for a defenseman who touched the puck as often and played as many minutes as he did. 

In terms of shot-attempt analytics, Provorov in his second season was roughly at the break-even point at 5-on-5 (49.88 percent Fenwick, 49.37 percent Corsi). With teams at full strength, he started 355 shifts in the neutral zone, 219 in the defensive zone and 209 in the offensive zone and typically played against opponents' top lines. In terms of traditional plus-minus rating, he finished at +17. 

Unfortunately, many of Provorov's individual stats trended downward in 2018-19. His offensive production dipped by 10 goals (17 to 7) and points by 15 (41 to 26). All seven of his goals came at even strength; he did not score a power play goal (despite increased power play ice time) or an empty netter.

Provorov's charged giveaways in 2018-19 were statistically identical to his second season (92 both years) but the volume committed in high-danger areas was higher this season. His credited hits were down (148 to 123) along with his blocked shots (169 to 149). Zone starts at 5-on-5 broke down as 407 neutral zone starts, 270 defensive zone and 202 offensive zone.

In 2018-19, Provorov's on-ice shot-attempt metrics also dipped (46.17 percent Fenwick, 45.4 percent Corsi) along with his traditional plus-minus (-16). These were largely microcosms of team-wide issues in the season in which the Flyers too often needed to play comeback hockey due to slow starts.  

Like many players, Provorov has said that he doesn't pay much attention to statistics, whether good or bad, as a primary indicator of the effectiveness of his play.

"I know if I'm playing good or not playing so good that night. After a game, doesn't necessarily match with the [stat] sheet. Sometimes you get lucky or unlucky, so you can't really get too caught up in numbers. When you play the right way as a team, you win most of the time. When you don't, maybe you win a few, but it catches up. If you look at our record, I think we all can say we need to play better, " he said on Jan. 17.

Especially during the first half of season, there was rampant media and fan speculation that Provorov was still bothered by a grade-3 separated shoulder he suffered in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Pittsburgh last spring. There were also theories, first posited by national commentator Ed Olczyk, that a switch in equipment (specifically, a smaller stick) played into some of Provorov's downturn. 

Provorov repeatedly and vehemently denied during the season that he had any sort of lingering issues from his playoff injury. He also said that his choice of stick was a non-issue. At his Exit Day press conference, the player reiterated that his health was fine. 

"There was nothing. I was 100 percent healthy in June, July. I was working out 10 hours a day, lifting weights and everything, shooting pucks. There wasn't anything that was bothering me," he said.

Provorov takes pride in the fact that, not only has he not missed a game in his three NHL seasons to date, he has also led the Flyers in time and average shifts per game in each of his campaigns to date. This season, his average 25:07 of ice time per game ranked 6th in the NHL. He was 20th in the league (24:09) in 2017-18 after averaging 21:59 as a rookie. He averaged 28.5 shifts per game as a rookie and then 28.9 each of the last two seasons.

Even by hockey standards, Provorov is a year-round conditioning fanatic. Other players marvel at his stellar between-shift recovery times and the work he puts in off the ice as well as on.

"Just stay ready. Everyone wants to play as much as possible," Provorov said. "I think I play better that way."

Provorov can become a restricted free agent on July 1. At his Exit Day interview, Provorov said that he does not expect his camp and the Flyers to have difficulty coming to terms on a new deal; whatever form it takes. For his part, Provorov wants to be a Flyer. 

"I love everything here. Love the guys and love the organization and everything about Philadelphia. It's not going to be a problem," Provorov said.

Provorov expressed similar optimism to the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. He has accepted their offer to play for Team Russia at the upcoming 2019 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia, contingent on first agreeing to a new contract with the Flyers. The tournament starts on May 10. 

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher was uncertain how long it would take for a new contract to be agreed upon with Provorov and the team's other restricted agents. He noted that such negotiations tend to move rather slowly until the summer. However, Fletcher said he was fully confident that all of the team's RFAs would be re-signed this offseason.

 

READ: Top Moments: Ivan Provorov Season in Review

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