PHILADELPHIA – What’s eating Ivan Provorov?
The Russian defenseman really just hasn’t been himself this season and no one seems quite sure why.
After a spectacular 2017-18 season, the 21-year-old has gotten off to a slow start.
Following a penalty to set up Florida’s first goal in the Flyers’ 2-1 loss to the Panthers on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center – ending the Flyers’ streak of six games without a regulation-time loss (first since Oct. 27) — Provorov has just two goals in 18 games with a minus-2.
That’s well off last season’s pace when his 17 goals finished in a tie for the most goals scored by an NHL defenseman (with a plus-10).
Overall, the Flyers are still pleased with Provorov’s work.
He’s never missed a game since the start of his career in 2016-17 (182 straight games) and he’s constantly among the league leaders in ice time, averaging more than 25 minutes per game.
But his defensive game has left something to be desired.
Twice in the second period of the Florida game, Provorov was whistled for what amounted to infractions from being a bit out of position.
On the first, he desperately dove to attempt a stickcheck behind the Flyers’ net and tripped Nick Bjugstad in the process.
That led to Aaron Ekblad’s power-play goal at 8:15. Ekblad, standing along the goal line, banked a shot off goaltender Brian Elliott.
It was the 10th game in the last 11 the Flyers have allowed a power-play goal.
It also ended the Flyers’ streak of scoring the first goal of the game at six.
A clearly frustrated Provorov voiced his displeasure with the first penalty call after the game.
“I didn’t think it was a penalty,’’ Provorov said. “I fell first and he tripped over me. I didn’t think it was a penalty. Bad call.’’
Later, Provorov slipped and fell, tripping Florida’s Mike Hoffman in the process and coming within a whisker of a penalty shot. It was a case of a miscommunication with Travis Konecny, according to Provorov.
Claude Giroux says Provorov, like any exceptional player, will have nights like this.
“He plays hard, penalties are going to happen,’’ Giroux said. “These two just happened in one game. He’s a very smart player, he’s always in good position. It’s definitely frustrating.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol gave Provorov’s performance a lukewarm endorsement but shied away from saying this sort of effort was indicative of the kind of season the defenseman is having.
“He’s had a really consistent stretch over the last couple weeks, he’s been rock solid,’’ Hakstol said. “Provy was solid tonight, maybe not his best, maybe not at his best because of a couple of those plays.
“He was OK tonight.’’
Does it seem like Provorov has had trouble keeping control of the puck this year?
“Earlier in the year, that was an issue,’’ Hakstol conceded. “I haven’t seen a lot of that in the last stretch here. Remember, when you’re playing against the top line every night, you make a mistake and it can look bad real quick.’’
The Panthers didn’t score on the ensuing power play but did get an even-strength goal from Evgenii Dadonov at 17:35.
Dadonov, using defenseman Christian Folin as a screen, wristed a shot past Elliott.
“Those (shots) are tough to pick up,’’ Elliott said. “The intensity (in the first two periods) wasn’t where it needs to be. I thought we brought it in the third period but it was a little too late.’’
Added Folin: “I screened Elliott. He (Dadonov) cut back to the middle and I should have done a better job with my stick. He shot it through me and I made it a hard save for him.’’
Meanwhile, the Flyers couldn’t seem to generate any consistent offensive pressure on Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo until the third period when Jake Voracek scored at 3:55 off a pinpoint pass from Oskar Lindblom to cut the deficit to one.
This game was a far cry from the wide-open affair back on Oct. 16, which saw the Flyers take a 5-2 lead, only to have the Panthers tie it in the third period. Philadelphia won that game in a shootout, with goalie Calvin Pickard picking up the win.
The Flyers return to action on Thursday when they host the New Jersey Devils in the fourth game of a five-game homestand.