PHILADELPHIA – During the summer, while renovations were underway at the Virtua Skate Zone in Vorhees, N.J., Flyers coach Peter Laviolette had to borrow the office of Executive Vice President Bob Clarke.
From there, Laviolette would begin piecing together his plan for the season: His training camp rosters: his practice schedules: his line combinations.
The latter is always the slipperiest of slopes. As a coach, you want to put guys together who you think will gel, form the needed chemistry and ultimately provide the necessary offense to win games.
But it’s a delicate art. Not only is it a contemplative struggle to decide whom to put together but also how long to keep them together before trying something else.
As a coach you have to decide where the breaking point is. You hope you figure it out early and don’t have to go off-script much at all throughout a season, but one never knows what lies ahead.
So, while Laviolette sat there in Clarkie’s office, staring alternatively from his computer to the framed pictures hanging around the room, possibly channeling inspiration, there were a couple no-brainers that he started with.
Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek would be paired together on the top line for sure.
And almost as quickly as he jotted those two names down, two more followed on the second line – Vinny Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds.
It was an automatic stream of conscious pen stoke. It was as if it was habitual in nature.
|Peter Laviolette is hoping that putting Wayne Simmonds (left) and Vinny Lecavalier together will make for an ideal second scoring line. |
When you think second line center, you certainly think Lecavalier. When you think second line right wing, you certainly think Simmonds. It should be that simple, right?
“You go into camp with a lot of ideas about what you think will work and then you find out that some of it does work and some of it doesn’t,” Laviolette said. “But the hope is you find some chemistry and some balance in your lines and that the players find a connection with one another. It would certainly be nice if [it turns out] that there is chemistry between them.”
And it’s a good bet that Laviolette will give that pairing, at least, some time to ferment. Who exactly will be on their left wing remains to be seen. It could be Brayden Schenn. It could be Michael Raffl. Heck, it could be Scott Hartnell, or Matt Read, or Max Talbot, or…
Regardless of who ultimately fills that void, it’s a safe bet that barring injuries, the Vinny and Simmer show will have a lengthy run this fall.
“It’s nice playing with him,” Simmonds said. “He’s a really good player. He’s big and strong and he likes to play down low [in the zone] with the puck and that’s perfect because that’s my style of game.
“I’m the crash and bang guy who is going to go loosen some pucks up and Vinny’s got a lot of skill and a great shot, so as long as I can go out there and create some room for him it would be perfect. Hopefully we build some chemistry together and stick together.”
Simmonds has proven to be a solid second line scoring option in his two seasons with the Flyers . He posted 49 points in his first season with the team with 28 goals and 21 assists, and followed that up with 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points in 45 games last season, which was on pace for a career-best 58 points if it wasn’t a lockout shortened season.
And to think Simmonds posted those numbers without having the luxury to play with an elite center with some size in Lecavalier.
Lecavalier has been the epitome of consistency in his long career. He has scored 20 or more goals 12 times – the only two times he didn’t was his rookie season, and last season in a lockout-shortened campaign. Five times he exceeded 30 goals.
He has also broken the 50-point plateau 10 times in his career, and eight of those times he went over 60 points.
Now, he’s going to be a second line center, and he’s being partnered on one side with one of the hardest-working power forwards in the NHL – and so far, Vinny’s loving it.
“It’s been going well,” Lecavalier said of the pairing. “I think we are clicking. We see each other on the ice, and that’s the most important thing. The plays are there and the more we play together the more we’ll execute our plays.”
And if they do click right away and start putting good numbers on the stats sheets, opposing coaches are going to have a hard time figuring out who they want their best defensive pairing out against – Giroux and Voracek, or Lecavalier and Simmonds.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if, as Laviolette was jotting those names down on paper, he muttered something like “pick your poison.”
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