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Flyers Notebook: Provorov a veteran presence

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 5

With the Flyers’ already-inexperience blue line decimated by injuries, the Flyers needed a veteran to steady the ship. But they didn’t have one. Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas and even the relatively experienced Shayne Gostisbehere, in his third NHL season, were all sidelined.

So Ivan Provorov stepped up and took the lead.

Ivan Provorov is 20 years old.

Provorov impressed fans and media with his poise during his rookie season. Like Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Provorov appears to have improved by leaps and bounds during the early portion of his second season. And, like Wentz, Provorov has taken a leadership role on the ice.

With so many defensemen injured, head coach Dave Hakstol leaned heavily on Provorov during the past week. The Flyers played five games in eight days. Provorov played at least 27 minutes in each game, with a high of 29:51 – nearly half the game – during Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to the Blackhawks.

Provorov’s only points during those five games were three assists during a 4-3 overtime loss to the Coyotes, and he was a minus-1 in plus/minus rating during that stretch. But numbers can’t begin to convey how important Provorov is to the Flyers. He makes so many subtle plays that don’t show up in the box score. He moves the puck well, gets his stick in passing lanes and takes good angles toward opposing puck carriers.

The one number that indicates Provorov’s importance to the Flyers was the 10 shots he blocked during Thursday’s 2-0 victory in St. Louis. Blocking 10 shots, which ties a Flyers record, indicates a willingness to sacrifice one’s body. But it also demonstrates that Provorov was properly positioned in the shooting lanes. During one shorthanded sequence, Provorov blocked three straight shots from Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko.

As a rookie, Provorov won the Barry Ashbee Award as the Flyers’ best defenseman. He might have a lock on that award for many years to come. And he might even become the Flyers’ first Norris Trophy winner.

The Flyers have a lot of youth on their blue line, but they already have a veteran presence in 20-year-old Ivan Provorov.

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HE’S THE MAN(NING): Another defenseman who stepped up when three others were sidelined was Brandon Manning. After being a healthy scratch at times this season, Manning played in all five of the games in the past eight days, registering his first two goals of the season.

Manning’s goal during a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs (he also added an assist) broke a streak of 53 games without a goal. He appeared to break that streak one game earlier against the Senators, but the goal was overturned after a replay review, although the evidence hardly seemed conclusive. In a bit of poetic justice, Manning’s apparent goal against the Blues on Thursday was initially waived off due to alleged goaltender interference by Jakub Voracek, but the call was reversed after a replay review showed that the goalie and defenseman initiated the contact with Voracek, who was stationed outside of the crease.

Manning’s offense is welcomed, but his value has never been about his offense. At his best, he provides steady defense and a physical presence, and that is what he’s done while averaging 20 minutes per game during the recent five-game stretch when the Flyers desperately needed him to play well.

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ROTTEN GUESTS: The Flyers’ 2-0 win Thursday was the Blues’ first loss at home this season. The Blues had entered the game tied for the best record in the NHL.

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WAITING IS OVER: One of the beneficiaries of the injuries to three Flyers defensemen was Will O’Neill. When Shayne Gostisbehere was sidelined with an “upper body” injury, the Flyers called up defenseman Mark Alt to replace him in the lineup. Sam Morin was unavailable due to an injury sustained with the Phantoms. With the Flyers going on a road trip, they called up O’Neill as an emergency defenseman.

The emergency came when Radko Gudas left Wednesday’s loss to the Blackhawks with an “upper body” injury. O’Neill was pressed into duty the next night, a 2-0 victory over the Blues.

O’Neill, 29, made his NHL debut 4,198 days after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2006 NHL Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, who no longer exist (they became the Winnipeg Jets). O’Neill’s first NHL shift only lasted four seconds due to a penalty on Flyers forward Dale Weise, but O’Neill played 9 minutes, 25 seconds in his long-awaited NHL debut.

With Gostisbehere back in the lineup Saturday against the Avalanche, O’Neill was scratched. But you have to admire the perseverance O’Neill displayed in finally making it to the NHL after 11 years.

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COUTURIER KEEPS ROLLING: The Flyers held their collective breath Thursday when Sean Couturier left the game after a blindside hit by former Flyer Brayden Schenn. The hit to Couturier’s head drew an interference penalty. Fortunately for the Flyers, Couturier returned later in the game.

The Flyers can’t afford to lose Couturier, who leads the team in goals (nine) and plus/minus rating (plus-11) and is tied for the team lead in points (18). He and Jakub Voracek are tied for fourth in the NHL (with Maple Leafs sensation Auston Matthews) in points, he is tied for sixth in goals and fifth in plus/minus rating.

Entering Saturday’s game against the Avalanche, Couturier was actually leading the NHL in even-strength points since March 1. He is also first in the NHL in plus/minus rating (plus-28) during that period, with a comfortable margin over his closest competitor.

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GO FOURTH AND CONQUER: Although the focus has been on Sean Couturier, the top line and the young defense, the Flyers’ fourth line has quietly been very effective. Center Scott Laughton and forward Michael Raffl and Taylor Leier have only produced two goals – both by Laughton – but they have produced plenty of scoring opportunities and kept the puck in the offensive zone. That’s why nobody on the line has a negative plus/minus rating despite not scoring many goals.

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CARNIVAL: As was the case last season, the Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival will be held in November this season instead of in the traditional February/March period. This year’s carnival, which is a great time to meet current and former players and have fun while raising money for worthy causes, is Nov. 19.

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LIGHT SCHEDULE: The Flyers have four days off before hosting the Blackhawks on Thursday (7 p.m.). The Flyers will then host the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m.) in the first half of a home-and-home series that doesn’t conclude until the following Tuesday (Nov. 14).

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