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Take me to your leader

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Steve Mason gets lighter around the shoulders with each win, while the 10 pounds that Jake Voracek dropped over the summer seems to be similarly empowering.

“No pasta and bread, it was tough,” said Voracek, but maybe not as tough as it will be to play the next six weeks without Michael Raffl.

With Voracek off to the kind of start suggesting he is about to join Claude Giroux as a full-fledged star, the last thing Craig Berube needs is an interruption in the kind of first-line production the Flyers have gotten through 13 games. So, after one period of trying Phantoms callup Chris Vandevelde on the left side of Giroux and Voracek on Thursday night, Berube had seen enough.

Left wing Brayden Schenn, playing as aggressively and as well as he has in his time in Philadelphia, is not to be disturbed from his place with a currently hugely-confident Sean Couturier and Matt Read.

The promising Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has played just 13 games in the NHL, not enough to pressure him with top-line production levels. So across the ice was sent Wayne Simmonds to play a left side he never has before in the NHL.

“Could be a really lethal combination,” said the coach.

It could also be discombobulating for Simmonds, and for the Flyers, who, needing three lines to score, might find Berube is robbing Peter to pay Paul. With the salary cap and expansion spreading out the talent, few teams any longer feel they can afford to load up one line, like the LCB, French Connection, Legion of Doom, and GAG lines of yore. So we will see how this works out until Raffl, who was scoring and complementing Giroux and Voracek strongly, returns.

That said, the first priority had to be to feed the beast that Voracek is becoming. Just 39 seconds after the Panthers scored a second period goal Thursday night to make a game of it, Giroux set up Voracek’s sixth goal off a two-on-one, pulling his linemate into a tie with Sidney Crosby for the NHL scoring lead with 19 points.

It happened fast, just like Voracek’s game is rising.

“I do feel quicker,” said the slimmed down version. “It took a while to get used to it; you can’t afford to hang onto the puck as long as you did before. But so far it’s been better for me.”

Better for the Flyers, too, Voracek’s wheels open up ice, why he once was a seventh pick in a draft. Those are safecracker hands opening the vault to all his promise in his seventh NHL season.

Voracek almost did a point-a-game in the lockout-shortened season, but didn’t come close a year ago, which didn’t stop Ed Snider from predicting in September that Jake was about to take it up to the top level.

Mason, who broke in with Voracek in Columbus, sees the elevator doors about to open to the penthouse.

“We knew he could be a special player if he put everything together and he’s starting to do that,” said the goalie. “He can take over a hockey game and he is getting rewarded with the points right now.”

Tuesday night, Voracek failed to get a pass out past Edmonton defenseman Oscar Klefbom, but had the puck back faster than The Chief used to drop the gloves. Voracek whipped it around the opposite post in no time.

Twelve minutes later, when Jake tried to snake a give-and-go feed to a rushing Michael Del Zotto and the shot caromed off a skate and back up the slot, Voracek steadied the puck with his skate and snapped it past goalie Viktor Fasth fasther than a Penguin fan at Wells Fargo Center can get on your nerves.

Now that’s quick, speedier even than Voracek is to caution that the season is young. “I wouldn’t be too confident,” he cautioned. “Let’s talk about it 50-60 games in. “

Maybe the first guy this new Jake Voracek has to prove something to is himself.

That said, getting too far ahead of yourself could put you offside. So, okay, we will give it a couple months before dubbing this first Flyer line – whoever is its left wing -- the Legion of Zoom. But this is one fast start.

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