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Flyers' Voracek, Couturier excelling after line changes

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said he wasn't sure what it would be like on the left side of the ice.

Voracek had been a right wing for as long as he had played hockey, and it worked pretty well for him. Last season, he played in his first NHL All-Star Game and finished fourth in the League in scoring.

But after Voracek scored one goal in his first 30 games this season, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol made a change prior to the Dec. 15 game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Voracek was going to play left wing.

Hakstol believed Voracek was skilled and smart enough to make whatever adjustments would be needed. Voracek, though, wasn't sure how, or if, the position switch would work.

"I thought it was going to be way harder," he said. "Because I never played it. ... It's a big change."

But the change has been good. Voracek had a goal and two assists against the Hurricanes in his first game at his new position. And in 10 games as a left wing entering the Flyers' Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Boston Bruins (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports), he has three goals and seven assists.

Since the position change, the Flyers (18-15-7) are 6-3-1.

"Jake's a good player and he's a real smart hockey player," Hakstol said. "I think he can play anywhere up front. We've asked him to move to the left side because it's the best thing for our team. True to his nature as a good teammate he's done nothing but go out and do the best job he could over there."

After a hockey lifetime on the right side of the ice, Voracek said he now feels at home at left wing. He admitted his early struggles were wearing on him and the pressure was magnified by the Flyers' rough start to the season.

"The mental side of that is a big part," Voracek said. "When the puck doesn't go in you can say that you don't think about it and you don't feel that pressure, but you just do. ... You could tell when I had the puck the first 15 games I wasn't very confident. I was second-guessing myself."

Instead of throwing the puck away or forcing things, Voracek now looks more like the all-star of last season.

"Right now, the way I'm playing, the way I feel, it wouldn't matter if I'm on the left or right," he said. "I didn't feel good earlier in the season. Nothing came easy for me in the beginning of the season."

The same could be said for center Sean Couturier, who has excelled defensively since the Flyers selected him with the eighth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft but has yet to score more than the 15 goals he had last season. He had three goals in his first 24 games this season.

But the same Dec. 15 game that sparked Voracek also changed something for Couturier. He had a goal and an assist against the Hurricanes, and has six goals and six assists in his past 10 games.

He's gone from playing between Voracek and right wing Wayne Simmonds to centering left wing Michael Raffl and right wing Brayden Schenn. Regardless of his linemates, Couturier has been a consistent offensive force while remaining defensively reliable. In the past 10 games, he's been on the ice for one 5-on-5 goal-against and is a plus-12.

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Jakub Voracek and center Sean Couturier are excelling offensively after line adjustments. (Photo: Getty Images)

"Sean is playing good hockey," Hakstol said. "You've seen it the last few games, [Couturier] and his linemates have played a lead role for us in all three zones and also on the offensive side."

Couturier said he believes his NHL career is mirroring his development in junior hockey, when he went from a bottom-six forward as a 16-year-old with Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to consecutive 96-point seasons leading into his draft year.

"I feel like earlier, my first few [NHL seasons] I was more thinking defensively," Couturier said. "Going against top lines, just trying not to get scored against. Now I try to think more about scoring; that's more my mentality now."

At 23 and in his fifth NHL season, Couturier has grown into his 6-foot-3, 197-pound frame. He's also being put in better positions to produce offensively. Couturier has started 42.3 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts this season in the offensive zone, according to war-on-ice.com, up from 39.8 percent last season. If his current percentage holds through the end of the season, it would be the highest total of his NHL career.

Couturier said he's also felt empowered by Hakstol to take more chances offensively.

"I'm mentally a little more confident with the puck, trying to make some plays," he said. "Trying to create some plays when there's maybe not much. It's been working out pretty well. I've just got to keep being the player I am. I'm always going to be a 200-foot guy where I'm solid defensively. But when I have the chance to go on offense I have to jump on it and that's what I've been doing."

The Flyers are averaging 2.25 goals per game, third-fewest in the League, but that could change as Voracek and Couturier continue to get their offensive games going.

"It helps when you get a couple bounces when you make a couple good plays," Voracek said. "You build on that. And it helps that we're winning as a team. ... Everything's come together. We've started winning. Think we're playing great as a team. Just have to keep it going."

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