Flyers

Provorov's Olympic disappointment

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Provorov's Olympic disappointment

Ivan Provorov is disappointed. 

Not bitter and disgusted like Alex Ovechkin may feel, but upset nonetheless that the NHL won’t be participating in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It is unfortunate and a little sad, because every time you get a chance to represent your country it’s something special,” said Provorov. “It’s a different type of feeling because you get together, you have to jell real fast and find chemistry. It’s a shorter tournament, two to three weeks. Every time you get a chance to play for your country it’s something special. It is very unfortunate and sad that NHL players can’t go.”

The reality will hit home when Russia opens the Olympic tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 14 against Slovakia. Had the NHL and the Players Association struck an agreement, this would have been Provorov’s first trip to the Olympics and probably his only opportunity to play with superstars like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, iconic figures he grew up watching as a kid in Yaroslavl, who are no longer in the NHL.

“Datsyuk is definitely one of them,” said Provorov. “Growing up there was Sergei Gonchar. I got to watch a little bit of (Sergei) Zubov. He was an unbelievable player, a great two-way defenseman.”

Four years ago, Provorov was a 17-year-old skating for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL when his native Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There was a tremendous level of expectations for the Russian hockey team that finished a very disappointing fifth. Since the incorporation of NHLers in the Olympics, Russia hasn’t medaled since winning bronze in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and the last time they claimed gold came in 1992 when the former Soviet nations formed the Unified team. Provorov wasn’t even born yet.

Still, the importance and relevance of winning Olympic gold is not lost on the 21-year-old defenseman. Provorov comprised a Russian team that took the bronze at the World Championships and he’s been part of two silver medal winning team at the World Junior Championships.   

“Hockey is one of the main sports back home. Everybody watches it and everybody loves it,” said Provorov. “That would be huge. It would be special. It’s a different feeling playing in the NHL. It’s a longer season. Eighty-two games and then playoffs. It’s a grind. There, it’s a different feeling because you get together real fast.”   

Along with former Los Angeles Kings blueliner Slava Voynov, Provorov may have been Team Russia’s top defenseman in the tournament. He would have been tasked to play some big minutes while shutting down some of the most talented lines assembled. Some hockey players could be overwhelmed saddled with that level of responsibility, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall believes Provorov would have handled the pressure with the same calmness and composure of playing 20-25 minutes every night in the NHL. 

“I don’t think he’s the type of kid that needs a shot in the arm or perform at a certain event to elevate his game,” said Hextall. “Ivan’s a very driven player. He brings a terrific focus and work ethic to the rink every day. I guess you can always say it may benefit him, but I think Ivan playing in the NHL every day as a young kid is benefitting him right now as well.”
 
Why Provorov doesn’t harbor the resentment like other players around the league, including teammate Jake Voracek, is that he doesn’t exactly know what he’s missing out on. His Olympic dream is on hiatus, and come 2022 in Beijing, Provorov will be 25 and arguably in the prime of his career. 

“I’m young, so hopefully in 4 years I’ll have another chance to go.”

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Replacing Wayne Simmonds on the power play may be one of the toughest assignments in the NHL.

After all, the guy is second to only Alex Ovechkin with 85 man-advantage goals since the 2011-12 season.

So when the predicament actually faced Dave Hakstol this week, the Flyers' head coach turned to … a 19-year-old rookie.

Why Nolan Patrick?

Three components of the decision stand out:

Intelligence factor
Leading up the NHL draft, the overwhelming strength of Patrick's scouting report was his hockey sense.

Those close to him, as well draft experts, lauded Patrick for comprehending plays before they even happen and being above the ice in understanding spacing.

Those characteristics are crucial when having an extra man.

Patrick has two goals over two games filling in for the injured Simmonds on the Flyers' top power-play unit. Patrick exhibited his IQ with Thursday's game-winner, where he quickly planted himself right in front of the net, had the presence of mind to find the puck and then bury it past Sergei Bobrovsky.

"We told him, just stand in front, if you see a puck, bring it home," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We tried to simplify it for him and he's going to take care of it himself, he's a great hockey player. It's paying off for him."

All about the touch
Patrick has excellent hands.

Put him around the net, and he'll know how to deflect pucks and find holes in a goalie. His vision, skill and finesse are why he's regarded as such an all-around playmaker.

In Tuesday's win, Patrick found immediate success with the first power-play group. Making his way to the middle, Patrick took a Claude Giroux pass and showed off that touch, adeptly going top shelf as Carey Price went low.

Studying Simmonds' net-front proficiency hasn't hurt, either.

"I watch him every game, he's unbelievable there and good at tipping pucks and making plays," Patrick said. "You learn from just watching every day."

Building up the kid
With time, Hakstol and the Flyers have allowed for Patrick to become comfortable instead of putting the world on his shoulders from the get-go.

That's part of Patrick's makeup.

"He almost always wants to be comfortable and then he really starts to exert himself," Patrick's uncle, James, said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last June

We're starting to see Patrick let loose.

As the Flyers have gradually upped his opportunity and responsibility, Patrick has eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last 12 games after putting up six (two goals, four assists) over his previous 34.

Placing Patrick among the team's best talent on the man advantage will only help with his confidence moving forward, in all situations.

The Flyers' power play entered Friday with the NHL's sixth-best percentage at 21.6.

It'll need more of Patrick — but the Flyers couldn't have asked for a much better start to life without Simmonds over the next two to three weeks.

Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

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Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin each had two goals and an assist and the Pittsburgh Penguins routed the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 on Friday night for their season-best sixth straight victory.

Jake Guentzel had a goal and two assists, Sidney Crosby scored a late goal and Olli Maatta also scored. The Penguins took control with three goals -- two by Kessel -- in a 7:39 span in the second period.

Matt Murray made 27 saves for Pittsburgh, which has won 11 of 13 to overtake idle Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Since the Penguins were shut out by Carolina on Jan. 4, they are 16-3-1.

They were just as busy off the ice, completing a mid-game trade in which they picked up center Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators. As part of the complicated three-team deal, they sent defenseman Ian Cole to Ottawa and forward Ryan Reaves to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teuvo Teravainen scored and Cam Ward stopped 33 shots for the short-handed Hurricanes, who have gone 0-3-1 during a four-game slide that's keeping them outside the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Wild dominate skidding Rangers for New York sweep
NEW YORK -- Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal each scored twice and Devan Dubnyk made 22 saves in the Minnesota Wild's 4-1 victory over the free-falling New York Rangers on Friday night.

The Wild completed a three-game sweep of New York-area teams after beating the Monday night and New Jersey on Thursday night.

The Rangers lost for the sixth straight time in regulation. New York is 6-17-0 since beating Buffalo in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (see full recap).

Blackhawks’ Berube dominant in 1st Chicago start
CHICAGO -- Jean-Francois Berube made 42 saves in his first start for Chicago to help the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Friday night.

Defenseman Jan Rutta, activated from injured reserve Friday, and Nick Schmaltz scored, and Artem Anisimov added an empty-netter with 30.5 seconds left.

Anthony Duclair had two assists for the Blackhawks. They won their second straight and third in four games following an eight-game losing streak that dropped them to last place in the Central Division.

Berube lost a bid for this first NHL shutout when Timo Meier scored his 15th goal on a screened shot with 7:51 left in the third period.

Martin Jones stopped 33 shots for the Sharks, coming off a 7-1 loss at Nashville on Thursday night (see full recap).