In what’s been prompted as a season of “reset” for the Philadelphia Flyers, few have benefitted from the changes on ice more than defenseman Ivan Provorov. In his seventh NHL season with the Flyers, for the first time in the 25-year-old’s career, Provorov’s playing with a defensive partner whose seemingly a match made in heaven for his game.
Philadelphia acquired defenseman Tony DeAngelo in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes back in early July in exchange for a 2022 fourth-round pick, 2023 third-round pick, and 2024 second-round pick. Quickly after the trade, the Flyers signed DeAngelo to a two-year, $10 million contract extension. While it might not have been the blockbuster offseason move many Flyers fans hoped general manager Chuck Fletcher would make, it was certainly a necessary one.
Provorov’s Carousel of Defensive Partners
With Ryan Ellis’s complicated injury status, the organization knew he would likely be out for the long term into the 2022-2023 season. Ellis played in just four games with the Flyers last season. The veteran defenseman was traded to Philadelphia from the Nashville Predators in July 2021, in a move believed to be most beneficial to Provorov.
Throughout his career, Provorov’s played with a myriad of defensive partners. Andrew MacDonald, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Matt Niskanen, and Justin Braun have all played alongside Provorov on the top pairing. While some worked better than others, none were the perfect match.
Provorov’s Potential as a Top Defenseman
At the blue line, Provorov does it all. He’s an absolute work horse who never misses a shift. Throughout the years, he’s consistently logged some of, if not the, highest time on ice nearly every game for the Flyers. When it comes to 1-on-1 matchups with opponents’ top offensive weapons, Provorov’s the guy his team relies on to match up with them. That reliance on Provorov to do it all without a top defensive partner to complement his skillset has been what’s held the young defenseman back and played a major factor in what was his worst season last year.
A defender like Provorov needs to be playing alongside a more offensive-minded defenseman. He needs to be paired with someone who, once they get the puck out of the defensive zone, isn’t afraid to push it into transition and catalyze some offense themselves. The Flyers in general also desperately needed a defender who gets involved on the power play. In other words, they needed a true top defenseman.
DeAngelo’s Potential as a Top Defenseman
That’s where DeAngelo comes in. Provorov and DeAngelo only played one game together in the preseason. For how vital it is for defensive pairings to have chemistry on ice, they entered the regular season hardly having even played with one another. Despite this, the two seemingly haven’t missed a beat.
“I think both of us understand the game on a pretty high level,” said Provorov. “That allows you to almost predict and think where your partner is going to be… when you have good chemistry with your D-partner, half the time you don’t even need to look. You know where he’s going to be. We’re trying to get to the highest level of that.”
DeAngelo puts up just as much time on ice as Provorov, if not more. He’s a key player on the power play for the Flyers, especially with a lethal shot from the point that sneaks up on opponents not expecting it. His first goal with Philadelphia actually came on the power play. DeAngelo alleviates a lot of the pressures Provorov’s been burdened with in past years.
In 2021, we saw Provorov have his worst season because he was spending so much time on ice playing defense, which sounds redundant, as he is a defenseman, but the 2021-22 Flyers became infamous for their defensive meltdowns. They struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, leaving Provorov battling on ice for minutes and minutes at a time. That, in combination with another brutal season between the pipes for Flyers’ goaltending, resulted in disaster.
Provorov and DeAngelo Through Four Games
Even with his potential as a top defenseman in the league, Provorov didn’t have a partner to match up with him and his game suffered big time because of it. Now, through the first four games of this season, we’ve seen flashes of excellence from the top pairing in him and DeAngelo.
In the first three games, the pair combined for a plus/minus of plus-nine. Provorov’s played with aggression and confidence we haven’t seen from him in years. Not only has he been playing some of his best hockey down low on defense, we’ve seen him getting involved on the offense, too, something we haven’t seen much of from him since the 2019-20 season playing alongside Niskanen.
In four games, Provorov already has four points. He’s no longer permanently residing in the defensive zone using all his energy in fighting to get the puck out. With DeAngleo, the pair isn’t just winning defensive possessions, they’re pushing the puck into transition and good things are happening on the other end because of it.
DeAngelo’s five points is currently tied for third on the team with James van Riemsdyk. Along with his power-play goal, he’s already racked up four assists. He’s upgraded their power-play unit and brought back a dimension to Provorov’s game fans haven’t seen in awhile.
Though defensively the pair had a tough showing in the second half of their back-to-back on Oct. 19 against the Florida Panthers, they’ve been making head coach John Tortorella proud in stepping in and blocking shots and making themselves hard to play against. In the season opener alone, Provorov recorded 10 blocked shots and five hits. Playing together, the two better one another’s game.
The pairing of Provorov and DeAngelo have shown flashes of excellence all over the ice with true potential to be a top D-pairing in the league. The chemistry is evident and only going to get better as time goes on.
Speaking to the Flyers’ defense as a whole, there’s still a lot more work to be done with a lot of question marks, especially with so many young guys. However, if Provorov and DeAngelo can get into a rhythm, they can be the true top defensive pairing this team needs to pave the way.
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Sarah Griffin is a Boston native covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. She has a passion for hockey as well as lacrosse, and currently is also a reporter for the Premier Lacrosse League. Her two favorite people in the world are her dog Freddy and Patrice Bergeron.