Flyers

Provorov, Gostisbehere, oh my for Flyers' opponents

Provorov, Gostisbehere, oh my for Flyers' opponents

BOX SCORE

Ivan Provorov's hockey intelligence is off the charts for a guy who just turned 21 years old a week ago.

When he talks the game, he resembles a player with mounds of NHL experience.

In actuality, he's only 128 games into his professional career.

But it doesn't take Provorov's precociousness to understand what makes him click with Shayne Gostisbehere and how both can be a grueling pain in the opposition's side.

"If we play on offense, they can't score," Provorov said simply.

Bingo.

In a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, Provorov and Gostisbehere were a two-headed monster, a blue-line duo that can terrorize the competition when it's performing the way it did Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

"We look toward the challenge," Gostisbehere said. "Obviously we're playing against the other teams' top lines and it's a challenge every game, it's the teams' best players. I think as a pair, we just need to keep it simple, pick our spots and it's working."

It more than worked against the Devils.

Provorov scored a goal, played 23:13, was a plus-2 and led the Flyers with six shots on goal and nine total shot attempts. Gostisbehere opened the scoring with a doozy of a primary assist, played 20:09, was a plus-2 and strong in his own zone.

Most ideally, though, when Provorov and Gostisbehere are wreaking havoc in the opposition's zone by keeping their team on the offensive, the Flyers can be awfully tough to beat. 

Saturday was case in point as the Flyers seized a commanding 3-0 lead in the first period to eventually win for the sixth time in the last seven games, creeping to within a point of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

"Doing the little things and taking care of the puck," Provorov said of the fast start, which has often eluded the Flyers through 46 games thus far. "If we take care of the puck and move it forward, we don't have to play defense and that helps us to create offense and create energy."

It can also limit the counterpart's best unit. In this case, it was the Devils' first line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, New Jersey's top three scorers. The trio was held in check with just a goal and an assist, while each player finished a minus-2.

"It's not just the D-pairing, I think it's a combination of the group of forwards that spent most of the time against that line," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "They did a good job. It's a big challenge, those are good players that have been generating a lot. I thought Provy and Ghost did a good job along with the majority of the time with [Sean Couturier's] line."

When asked about neutralizing the Devils' big boys, Provorov showed that hockey intelligence of his, which belies his age.

"Just take away time and space," he said. "When guys can skate that fast, just try to limit their time, angle them and don't give them time to pick up their head — just be on them hard.

"That whole line is pretty fast, but our main focus was to try and limit their chances and play on offense."

Provorov and Gostisbehere are tied for second among NHL defensemen with nine goals apiece, while Gostisbehere's 33 points are tied for fourth. He recorded his 33rd point off a sparkling play in which he took the puck from his own blue line, skated around Hischier, darted toward the middle and hit a wide-open Travis Konecny for a 1-0 lead 3:29 into the game.

"Honestly, I just knew if I was skating, he was going to find that lane," Konecny said. "Sure enough, I didn't have to move, it just came right to me."

Konecny registered two more points Saturday, giving him nine in his last 10 games, as the Flyers' youth answered the bell against a divisional opponent. And when Provorov and Gostisbehere are driving play, the Flyers are a different animal for a variety of reasons.

"It's good, it's fun to watch, they're both really good with the puck, make good plays and both can score," Valtteri Filppula, who netted the Flyers' other goal, said. "It's definitely fun to see them out there and they get a lot of minutes, too, which is nice."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth, who won his second straight start, quipped: "They don't feel young to me."

They're not looking it.

"I think we understand the game in a similar way," Provorov said. "We move the puck, we understand where we are on the ice all the time, which helps us get out of our zone quick, get through the neutral zone real fast and create something on offense."

Which creates trouble for whomever the Flyers see down the stretch.

How Flyers prepare for life without Simmonds, Neuvirth

How Flyers prepare for life without Simmonds, Neuvirth

One Czech is out, and another has checked in.

Petr Mrazek has endured a rather eventful past 24 hours. Following news of the trade to the Flyers, Mrazek didn’t go to bed until 2 a.m. and was awake at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Philadelphia that had him at the Wells Fargo Center in time for the Flyers' morning skate.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Mrazek said. “I got a call at 9:30 from (Red Wings GM) Ken Holland and then Ron Hextall. Yeah, I’m excited. A couple of months ago I had a good conversation with Ken Holland about it and he said if he had a good opportunity to do it, he was going to try and move me. I was really happy.”

With Michal Neuvirth now expected to miss the next 4 to 6 weeks with a lower-body injury, and Brian Elliott scheduled to be out until late March recovering from core muscle surgery, Mrazek will now be the Flyers' go-to guy in net. 

“Petr’s a proven guy,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That goes without saying. We’ve said all along we have confidence in Alex and he’s starting tonight, but Hexy alluded to it, going out and getting an established veteran NHL goaltender and that’s what Petr is.”

Mrazek’s game has definitely reached another level since the calendar flipped to 2018. The 26-year-old netminder has a 5-3-2 record to go along with a 2.29 GAA and a .925 save percentage since Jan. 1. 

“I changed a couple of things during the summer,” Mrazek said. “I didn’t play much the first half of the season and it was tough for me to find my game playing once in two weeks or once in three weeks. It was tough but I worked hard during that stretch on the ice to try and improve my game, and I think over the past few months it was going in the right direction.”

Mrazek will also find comfort in a clubhouse with three Czech teammates: forward Jake Voracek, defenseman Radko Gudas and Neuvirth. They’ve played together at the IIHF World Championships and the World Cup of Hockey.

“I won’t be surprised if we signed Jags after the Olympics,” said Voracek, jokingly regarding Jaromir Jagr. “Obviously, something needs to be done regarding Neuvy and Elliott. Petr’s a great goalie and I think we’re having a great season this year. Obviously, he’s very competitive. As long as we find a way to win with him in the net, that’s all that matters.”  

“They’re different style goalies for sure,” Gudas said of the differences between Mrazek and Neuvirth. “He’s a great goaltender who challenges a lot. That’s a good thing for us to have someone who cares as much as he does. I think our goalies were doing a really good job of keeping our defense intact and keeping them honest, and I think Petr is going to do the same thing, especially our young D corps, and help them out.” 

In Bloom
Many expected Oskar Lindblom to make the Flyers out of training camp. Few expected the call-up to come during the heat of a playoff race. 

Regardless, the 21-year-old Swede will make his NHL debut Tuesday against the Canadiens and should see an extended look into March following an upper-body injury to Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers' power forward is expected to miss the next 2 to 3 weeks of action.

“I’ve grown as a person and as a player,” Lindblom said. “I just felt I had to go down there (Lehigh Valley) and just do my thing and get better every day.”

“It’s so valuable going into the American League and have the opportunity to gain that experience, especially for Oskar being his first year in the smaller NHL rink,” Hakstol said. “He’s grown as a player. I think his confidence has always been good.”

Certainly, confidence won’t be lacking as Lindblom was lighting it up with the Phantoms, scoring a goal in three straight games, along with another scoring streak that included five goals in a six-game span.  

“I don’t know why I’ve been that way this season,” said Lindblom. “But it’s good when it comes and I need to keep riding on that wave a little bit.”

“He’s got a great shot, great hockey sense,” Claude Giroux said. “He’s been playing some great hockey with the Phantoms, and he’s a great guy in the locker room too, so I’m pretty excited to see him on the ice since I haven’t seen him in awhile.”

Lindblom will be on the Flyers' third line along with center Scott Laughton and winger Michael Raffl.

“He’s a smart player, a really heady player,” Laughton said. “I’m excited to play with him. I haven’t talked to him too much. I’m sure we’ll talk more before the game with what me and Raffl like to do and we’ll go out there and continue to push forward and look for him in the slot where he likes to score goals.”

Projected lines and pairings
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny

Jake Voracek-Nolan Patrick-Jordan Weal

Oskar Lindblom-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise


Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere

Andrew MacDonald-Robert Hägg

Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas


Alex Lyon

Petr Mrazek

2 more key Flyers out with injuries

ap-michal-neuvirth-flyers.jpg
USA Today Images

2 more key Flyers out with injuries

There's more bad news on the injury front for the Flyers.

Winger Wayne Simmonds (upper-body injury) will miss two to three weeks and goalie Michal Neuvirth (lower-body injury) will be out the next four to five weeks.

With yesterday's news that the Flyers had recalled surging forward prospect Oskar Lindblom (see story), a corresponding move seemed imminent. With Simmonds out, Jordan Weal took his place on Nolan Patrick's line, which had been clicking lately, during the morning skate. It appears Lindblom will see his first NHL action on Scott Laughton's line along with Michael Raffl.

With Brian Elliott likely out for the rest of the regular season and Neuvirth's status, the Flyers' trade for goalie Petr Mrazek makes obvious sense (see story). Mrazek was on the ice for morning skate and will be available tonight vs. the Canadiens (7 p.m./NBCSP), according to GM Ron Hextall, who was a guest on 97.5 The Fanatic's midday show.