Ivan Provorov played fewer than 21 minutes only once last season and it was because of 12 penalty minutes accrued in one uncharacteristic game.
On Tuesday night, Provorov played 20:29. He wasn’t at his best with a pair of penalties, three giveaways and a quiet night on the power play.
Shayne Gostisbehere played 19:22 and had a power play assist. But he didn’t break out by any means, finishing with no shots and a minus-1 mark.
Those two playing OK was more than OK for the Flyers.
That’s because Matt Niskanen “was a force out there,” according to head coach Alain Vigneault, to help spearhead a 4-1 win over the Hurricanes, who the Flyers went 0-4-0 against last season (see observations). The 32-year-old veteran ate up 21:26 minutes, tallied two assists, was a plus-2 and played on both special teams units.
“He made some great plays as far as killing opportunities and getting the puck out of our end,” Vigneault said.
Provorov, Gostisbehere and the Flyers’ defense didn’t have a luxury like Niskanen last season. They do now and his impact has been felt everywhere. The blueliner with a Stanley Cup title has two goals and six assists through 14 games. He leads the team’s defensemen in shorthanded ice time and is third in power play minutes.
He is a smart and skilled puck mover with a calmness to his game.
Seldom does he make a poor decision and the Flyers are 5-1-1 when he records a point.
In 2018-19, the Flyers put a lot on the shoulders of Provorov and Gostisbehere. Provorov came into last season at 21 years old and Gostisbehere was 25. There was nobody the caliber of Niskanen to take off some pressure or pick up any slack.
Niskanen was a plus-91 over his previous six seasons and owns 125 career postseason games.
"I've been fortunate to be on real good teams," he said in June when the Flyers acquired him. "I've been around and I know what good hockey looks like, I know what a good culture looks like. I'm not going to be a rah-rah guy, but I think with my résumé, my words hold a little bit of weight, especially with young players.
“I envision myself being a really good partner for one of these young studs. Trying to give them confidence to do the things that they do well, and I'll be right beside them.”
So far, that kind of presence has felt like a force.
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