Setting up dextrous lineups

Posted: March 08, 2013

IT HAS BEEN a difficult transition, but Capitals coach Adam Oates thinks he is on to something - trying to get Alex Ovechkin to play on his natural, right-wing side.

"You look back through the history of baseball and every shortstop throws right. Why? Because it's too hard to make the throw lefthanded," Oates told CBC in a recent interview. "How many plays won't be made because a lefthanded shortstop isn't able to turn, get set and make the throw with strength and speed?"

It has become a leaguewide trend, and the Flyers are tuned in.

Oates referenced the feng-shui of the Bruins lineup, which has four left-shooting wings, four right-shooting wings, two left-shooting centers, two right-shooting centers, three left-shooting defensemen and three right-shooting defensemen.

According to a 2006 study in the New York Times, 60 percent of NHL forwards are lefthanded and 70 percent of NHL defensemen are lefthanded.

If you think hands don't make a difference, think again. Take Jake Voracek's goal against the Rangers Tuesday night. Streaking toward the net, he caught the puck on his forehand and snapped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist.

If Voracek was a righthanded shot, there's a pretty good chance he wouldn't have scored. Lundqvist only really needed to protect one side of the net unless Voracek went to the backhand - unlikely since defensemen were coming from that direction.

The biggest place you notice a difference this season is on the Flyers' defense. All six defensemen last year were lefthanded shots, something the Devils - with Oates as their assistant coach - preyed on, funneling pucks to the corner and "overloading" where the Flyers would need to play it on their backhand.

Look at the Flyers' defense pairings from Tuesday, before Nick Grossmann got hurt:

Kimmo Timonen (L); Luke Schenn (R)

Grossmann (L); Braydon Coburn (L)

Erik Gustafsson (L); Bruno Gervais (R)

It's not an accident that Kurtis Foster, with a heavy, righthanded shot, was signed as a free agent when the lockout ended.

Up front, Peter Laviolette hasn't made it a priority to pair a righty with a lefty, except on the power play. With the man advantage, Scott Hartnell (L) opposes Wayne Simmonds (R) with Claude Giroux (R) in the middle. Voracek (L) is at the point, leaving Hartnell and Simmonds constantly in shooting positions.

It actually has made the Penguins' power play a little easier (if possible) to defend. Two weeks ago, Sidney Crosby was never a real shooting threat on the power play, lining up on his off-wing in deference to Evgeni Malkin. Some players, like Danny Briere, thrive on the off-wing - and Crosby can, too. But playing there makes him one less shooting target for Ilya Bryzgalov.

Read, Mez upgraded

For the first time all season, Peter Laviolette may be able to pencil in a full and nearly healthy lineup Thursday against Pittsburgh.

Matt Read, originally projected to be out 6 weeks with torn rib-cage muscles suffered 2 weeks ago against Pittsburgh, was upgraded to "day-to-day" by general manager Paul Holmgren. Read has been skating regularly and tested himself with contact on Monday. If he does not return Thursday, he likely will be back Saturday in Boston.

Nick Grossmann, who left Tuesday's loss in New York after the first period, is also "day-to-day" and a possibility for Thursday. FOX 29's Howard Eskin said Grossmann has a groin injury.

Perhaps most importantly, defenseman Andrej Meszaros could be back for the first time since Jan. 24. Meszaros' dislocated left shoulder was also listed as "day-to-day." He would bring much-needed mobility to the blue line. Meszaros missed Monday's practice with an illness.

If both Grossmann and Meszaros cannot play on Thursday, Kurtis Foster likely will step into a role. Foster, who also has been sick, has been a healthy scratch for nine straight games.

Visor talk

Naturally, Wednesday's leaguewide conversation centered on mandatory use of facial visors in the NHL, following Marc Staal's gruesome injury against the Flyers at Madison Square Garden.

Fortunately, the news on Staal is relatively positive. Team doctors say the injury has "improved significantly" in 24 hours and he is out indefinitely but expected to make a full recovery. Kimmo Timonen's shot deflected off Jake Voracek's stick before hitting Staal in the right eye, in nearly the exact same spot on the ice (in the same building) where Barry Ashbee suffered a career-ending eye injury in 1974.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league has pushed to make visor use compulsory but the NHLPA supports "personal choice" for players.

Four Flyers - Wayne Simmonds, Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot and Mike Knuble (all forwards) - choose to not wear a visor. Nearly 73 percent of players, up from 69 percent in 2011-12, wear a visor in the NHL.

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