Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ivan Provorov Needs Our Help

Yesterday, I explored the Flyers' defensemen and tried to determine the best way to pair them. My conclusion was that the team currently has three pairings that "work" well enough: Michael Del Zotto with Radko Gudas, Shayne Gostisbehere with Brandon Manning, and Mark Streit with Ivan Provorov.

But, for the last twenty or so games, Provorov has not been playing with Streit. He has been playing with Andrew MacDonald, and that pairing has been playing more minutes than any other pairing in the lineup.

It's tough to measure the pairing's success by the team's win-loss record. Provorov and MacDonald were together for most of that long-forgotten 10-game win stream, and they've been together for this current stretch of 11 games in which they are 2-6-3. There are too many other factors with this Flyers team - primarily goal scoring and goaltending - to credit the highs or blame the lows on two defensemen.

But something has to fucking change here. Yet again, basically the whole Flyers team finished with a positive shot differential, except Provorov and MacDonald. If it seems like this happens every game, that's because it's not far from an every-night occurrence. Here's last night's shot chart from the Flyers-Sabres game:

You'll notice the other pairings (Gudas-Del Zotto and Manning-Gostisbehere) finished firmly in the "GOOD" segment of the graph. Even the fourth line finished in the positive, though their six minutes of ice time didn't see much excitement.

The issue was just with Provorov and MacDonald. At even strength, they were consistently outplayed on a night where their team consistently did the outplaying without them. And this wasn't a situation for the "Corsi doesn't matter! Goals are the only thing that count!" crowd to make any noise. The pairing was on the ice for two goals against. Sam Reinhart's goal, the first of the game, came after Andrew MacDonald failed to play defense against him. William Carrier's rebound goal three minutes later ended up being the game-winner, but to be fair it was more of an issue with the whole team.

The MacDonald-Provorov unit was also on the ice for Evander Kane's goal when it became a 3-0 deficit. The "dagger", as Sons Of Penn called it,  can be blamed almost exclusively on #47's horrible exit attempt through the middle of the ice, his failure to retrieve the puck, and his inability really defend any of the three Sabres involved with the goal:

Another excuse that can pop up in conversations like this is the Quality Of Competition excuse. For example, if Provorov and MacDonald had been matched up with Buffalo's top line all game (like they were against the Edmonton Oilers last month) then you would give them a pass for making life easier for their teammates.

But they weren't buried like that. Their 16 minutes and change of even strength ice time was split pretty evenly between Buffalo's top three lines. And this is a Buffalo team that went into last night 29th in the 30-team NHL in 5v5 goals scored. That's almost the complete opposite of an offensive juggernaut that it would almost be impossible for any defensive pairing to get "tough minutes."

The process for the Flyers was good - but not great - last night. Despite all these advantages in the shot department, the Flyers finished with a slim edge in overall Expected Goals (2.88-2.20) and an even slimmed one in 5v5 Expected Goals (1.86-1.73). The probably should have won, but defensive zone coverage killed them and simply has to be better if a playoff run is in the team's future.

So. Here are are. If we take the leap that Flyers Twitter seems to have taken, then we just need to let Andrew MacDonald play five more games and then we can send him to the AHL and protect the guys we need to protect.

But when that happens and MacDonald gets demoted, is it really as simple as just plugging Streit in with Provorov as the second pairing? Honestly, it might really just be that simple:

Focus on the three blue boxes. The middle is Ivan Provorov in all situations this season, He's right in the middle of the DULL-FUN and BAD-GOOD scales. He's also 19 years old and improving.

If you look toward the left, or the BAD label, you will find the Provorov-MacDonald pairing. The Streit-MacDonald pairing is much more in the direction of GOOD, which is kind of the whole point of this post. Provorov plays (significantly) better with Streit than he does with MacDonald.

This spider diagram, again, is a measurement of shots. But if we look at Expected Goals and Actual Goals, the results hold up (all 5v5 stats, as usual, per Corsica):

  • 9 with 47 (277 minutes): 43.51% Corsi, 45.23% Fenwick, 44.07% Shots, 42.37% Scoring Chances, 43.45% Expected Goals, 50.00% Actual Goals, 1.61 xGF/60, 2.09 xGA/60 
  • 9 with 32 (248 minutes): 53,61% Corsi, 52.79% Fenwick, 52.99% Shots, 40.28% Scoring Chances, 46.76% Expected Goals, 31.82% Actual Goals, 2.31 xGF/60, 2.62 xGA/60
Dear god, please don't let Dave Hakstol's faith in the Provorov-MacDonald stem from that inflated Goals For percentage. When he's with Streit, Provorov is anywhere from 7-10% better at driving play, about 40% better at generating offense, and about 25% worse at preventing opposing offense. For a team that should want to play a run-and-gun style to match their forward talent, the decision here should be easy. 

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