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Left Wing Luck?

by Brian Smith | PhiladelphiaFlyers.com / Philadelphia Flyers

It’s fair to consider that a new rabbit’s foot or a few four-leaf clovers could do as much as anything to aid Jake Voracek’s struggles in finding the back of the net this season. After all, in a game where luck often plays a factor, Voracek hasn’t had any this season. If a missed open net and a few pucks off the post had gone his way over the first quarter of the campaign, there would be little if any question about his game.

But they haven’t, and so the questions come up when things happen like Voracek moving to left wing on a line with Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds. Dave Hakstol plans to go with the new look on Tuesday night when the Flyers host Carolina, and it will be the first time in a while that Voracek has come down the ice on the left side.

“The first couple games when I got traded here I played with Danny [Briere] and Simmer,” Voracek said after Monday’s practice. “It’s a new experience; going to be a new challenge. It’s a little bit different timing. The game’s really different off that left side. So I just have to adjust it and we’ve got to find a way to produce as a line.”

Voracek is open to the change in scenery – after all, it’s popular among life coaches and people who lead business seminars to say that the best way to solve a problem is often to simply look at it from a different direction. From his current vantage point on the right wing, Voracek has one goal – the OT winner against Carolina one month ago – but has come mighty close to several others. On Dec. 4 in New Jersey, he hit the post so hard in overtime that the Devils could have sent him a bill for the damage.

“In Dallas I had a couple that I was 100 percent sure it was going to be in, but it ended up just sitting in the crease,” Voracek said. “Something’s got to get me going. It can’t last for much longer. Obviously [the change is] going to be a big difference, but like I said, I think I’m good enough to adjust to that. So I just have to find a way.”

And that’s the thing – Voracek has by no means been playing badly. He had a slow start to the season, but he has 15 assists, which is second on the team, and he’s notched 10 of those in the last 14 games. Hakstol said he’s trying the change not only for Voracek, but for the overall Flyers lineup as well.

“I think Jake’s playing pretty well,” Hakstol said. There’s a number of different things we’re looking at. One domino effect of that we’re looking at is [Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White] go back together. That’s been a good line for us on a long-term basis when they’ve been together.

“It’s not any extra focus on Jake. It’s about improving our team as much as we can – making our team a little bit better.”

However, Voracek knows his game has been a tiny bit off this year. He’s been consistently around 20 goals per year in three of his four years with the Flyers; his other year was also 22 goals, but in a 48-game season, which is a 38-goal pace for a full year. If he were on a 20-goal pace this season, he’d be at eight goals so far, which he’s not. But his pace on assists is 0.50 per game, which is above his NHL career average and right below the 0.52 he’s averaged as a Flyer.

“I don’t think I’m playing at the same level I did the last three years,” Voracek said. “I wouldn’t say I’m playing great, but I’m not playing that bad. I’m not playing [bad enough to] only have one goal, but I’m not playing [great enough] to have ten.”

Voracek is left-handed, so he’s been playing his “off-wing” for most of his career in that he’s a lefty playing down the right side. Moving to the left wing results in a little bit of a different approach to the game.

“Most of the plays you receive it and pass it on your backhand, but when you open up you see the whole ice,” Voracek said. “When you’re playing on your wing you have to keep it more in straight lines. It’s easier because the [defense] is further from you. Being a lefty on the right side, the D can step up on you, but on the other hand you have more options. You can step to the middle and shoot, or you can protect it better on your right side. It might help. We’ll see in the next few games.”

Simmonds has made the switch a handful of times over the course of his career, and he has confidence that his new linemate will be able to adjust.

“I think it’s more in your head than it is physically or anything,” Simmonds said. “You’ve just got to remember when you’re coming back into your zone which side you’re on. It’s almost second nature when you’ve been playing one position your whole life… you don’t even think about it. You just come back and you stop and you’re always in your spot.”

He also has confidence that once Voracek finds the net, the goals will come in bunches.

“If he scores one then he’s probably going to score 20,” Simmonds said. “It’s going to be unbelievable. He’s got everything going for him. It’s just that sometimes you don’t get all the bounces. He just has to keep shooting."

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