The degree of difficulty on Claude Giroux’s first goal was a near-10.
Travis Konecny’s goal, splitting two Bruins and deking through Patrice Bergeron before short-siding it in, was otherworldly.
And the guy who enabled both? Well that may be the most promising part of the Flyers’ surge toward a playoff berth. The Ivan Provorov of the first two months of the season is the Ivan Provorov of the last two weeks of this one. The point guard aspect on offense, the steady traffic cop in his own end. Sunday’s 4-3 overtime victory over the red-hot Boston Bruins was the latest in a string of business-card performances that should bolster any hopes that his team could make some noise when the playoffs begin April 11.
Giroux’s first goal Sunday came after Provorov collected a puck from a faceoff scrum in his own end, took a quick look, and like a savvy point guard, skated the puck up ice with wingers on both sides of him.
“I saw it, I poked it away, I saw we had a clear three-on-two so I skated in the middle just to keep the D guessing if I was going to left or right,’’ Provorov said. “Kicked it out right and TK made a nice pass to G. It was a nice goal.’’
It most certainly was. A textbook example of how to execute an odd-man rush. But a coach, a teacher of the game, would likely lean harder on what Provorov did to gain his second assist Sunday, which led to Konecny’s spectacular run through three Bruins scrambling to get back into position.
Slow down the tape, and it’s easy to see how that scramble occurred. Skating mid-ice along the left boards with the puck, Provorov slowed to allow two teammates to emerge from the offensive zone, veered toward the middle to converge both defensemen and draw Bruins forward David Pastrnak, chasing him from behind, toward the middle as well.
Provorov’s subsequent backhanded dish to Konecny created the havoc his old Brandon teammate needed to make his Superman play and give the Flyers a 2-0 lead 25 seconds into the second period.
“I watched in Colorado and the one down in Washington,’’ Mark Howe, the Hall of Fame defenseman, was saying in the press box between periods Sunday. “There are key points in the game where a play needs to be made and that’s when he’s making them. It’s not like they’re up 4-1 and he’s making a dynamic play. It’s when the game’s on the line. He’s making big plays in big moments.’’
For Howe, who was paired with Nicklas Lidstrom when he was roughly the same age as Provorov is now, watching Provorov is almost always a fond trip down memory lane. They’re not the same, he often cautions — Lidstrom had 101 points over his first two seasons, Provorov now has 69 — but the minds that see the game, despite its speed, like a chess game, are bedfellows.
“That is a talent,’’ Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “To be able to have hockey sense, to be able to think the game, that’s a talent. The work ethic, that’s a talent. It’s not just all skill. There’s a lot of different things that go into having talent in this league.’’
Ah yes, the work ethic. Provorov admitted after Sunday’s game that “There have been a few games that I hadn’t played as well as I can or as well as I wanted to,’’ leading to speculation that his age — 21–– and the amount of ice time he has logged — at 24:12 he was averaging nearly three minutes more than any teammate even before Sunday’s modest 22:32 — had worn down his effectiveness.
“I wasn’t tired,’’ he said of a few off games earlier last month. “I wasn’t gassed at all.’’
He bristles each time this is suggested. Immensely proud of a summer workout regime that facilitated an amazing start to his season, he will also argue that his young body has put in the miles since moving here from Yaroslavl, Russia, at age 14. Ninety games per year in Wilkes-Barre. Another 90 or so between juniors and world juniors.
These are not NHL games, I suggested. He agreed.
“But,’’ he said, “I’m older, I’m stronger, I’m faster than I was. The level of the game increases and I guess I’m getting better as the years go on.’’
He turned 21 on Jan.13. Only 19-year-old Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny are younger than Provorov. Even Lidstrom was 22 by the time his second season ended.
That’s the double-edged sword. We expect so much of him already that any hint of humanity out there feels like kryptonite.
Don’t sweat it, says Howe. “If you look at his junior numbers, they were off the charts offensively,’’ he said. “And we’ve only gotten a glimpse of those here and it’s going to get better.
“I like everything about him. As good as his team is and is getting, if you don’t have him, it changes the whole dynamics of the defense. He’s going to be a No.1 defenseman, barring injury, for a long time here.’’