The NHL All-Star break provides some time to reflect upon the season thus far, and on what lies ahead for the Philadelphia Flyers. There are a handful of factors that have contributed to the Flyers’ overall performance through the first 50 games. To me, one that stands out significantly is the work of the first defensive pair consisting of Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen. Focusing on these two, what kind of an impact, if any, has Matt Niskanen had on Ivan Provorov so far this season? Has the Stanley Cup-winning, veteran blueliner provided the leadership and experience that the Flyers organization had been looking for?
The Flyers acquired Matt Niskanen in June of 2019 from the Washington Capitals in exchange for defenseman Radko Gudas. Philadelphia retained 30% 0f Gudas’ $3.35 million dollar cap hit which was indicative that they believed the 33-year-old Niskanen could be one of the missing pieces on the Flyers’ defensive corps. The goal was that Niskanen would provide the Flyers’ blueline with a knowledgeable, offensive-minded player who could also lend a hand on the power play. On top of all of that, the solid right-handed shooting defender could complement Ivan Provorov on the first pair nicely.
Overall, just in watching this duo through the first two-thirds of the season, the improvement is evident. Taking a look at the statistics, the numbers make the case. As of the break, Ivan Provorov has nine goals and 16 assists. That puts him at a strong 25 points, just one point shy of reaching his total for the 2018-19 season of 26 (7 goals, 19 assists). In 2017-18, the best season thus far in his young career, the 23-year-old Russian recorded 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists). He appears to be well on his way to replicating those numbers this season.
Provorov has also collected 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) on the power play through the first 50 games. In comparison, last season he collected just two power play points (2 assists) total. He already has 113 shots on goal and 13 takeaways compared to a total of 145 shots on goal and 16 takeaways last season. The left-hander also leads the team with 79 blocks. All of this while maintaining around 25 minutes of average time on the ice per contest. Provorov seems more confident when he is sharing the ice with Niskanen. This confidence is leading to stronger production.
How could he not be confident? Matt Niskanen has proven to be a consistent and effective leader for the Flyers, so far. He is currently second on the team in hits (88) and third on the team in blocked shots (58). As the 15 stitches he acquired back in November after taking a puck to the face and subsequently returning to the same game will indicate, Matt brings a toughness and leadership mentality that this young team needs. He is not afraid to put himself in the right places at the right times and do what is necessary. This is the type of play he demonstrated during the 2017-18 season when he won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. That is the type of play that will bring out the best in Ivan Provorov and it is the exact type of play that will help put Philadelphia in the mix come springtime.
The Flyers (27-17-6) currently sit in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the last Eastern Conference Wild Card position. The last third of the season is going to be a real test. If the Flyers prosper, finding success in the playoffs will be an even tougher challenge. I believe Matt Niskanen will prove to be a real asset in the coming months.
Mandatory Credit – Alex McIntyre