Is This the Spark Nolan Patrick Needs?

SUNRISE, Fla. - Jake Voracek prefers to drive the bus no matter who's riding on his line. 

He was the driving force on that top unit with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux through the first 26 games of the season before Dave Hakstol elected to move Voracek in an attempt to balance out his lines.

Now, rookie Nolan Patrick is learning how to structure his game by adapting to Voracek's puck possession tendencies.

"Jake has done a good job of driving his line," head coach Dave Hakstol said. "Basically, there's been three different combinations for him so far this year. For a young guy like Patrick, you got to read a little bit off of Jake. Jake's a creative player, but I think Patty is a guy that can read that play and can get pucks to Jake at the right time and at the right areas."

Hakstol elected to move Patrick onto a line with Voracek and Michael Raffl prior to last Saturday's game at Columbus, following a stretch of games when Patrick showed more urgency to create plays in the offensive zone.  

While the combination of Valtteri Filppula, Raffl and Voracek exploded right away in their first game in Calgary, Voracek believes it will take time to develop with Patrick.

"One practice doesn't make much," Voracek said. "You have to play games. Practice is good to stay in shape, but you can't practice the game situations. It's hard to do. We had a couple of opportunities in Columbus. Could we do better? Sure, but it's a process and hopefully, we'll generate some chances and score some goals today."

With an average size of 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, one area the line can dominate is down in the trenches with their ability to win puck battles 

"It's always different playing with different guys," Raffl said. "Sometimes you need a little time to adjust, but I think he (Patrick) is one of our best centermen. He's intelligent, he's really good with the stick and he sees the ice well. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't work." 

Much of that depends on how long Hakstol is willing to keep that window of opportunity open.

The Ghostly confines
Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere says he occasionally gets the "stink eye" when he's asked where he's from and the response isn't your typical hockey-hotbed related answer.

The South Florida native, who was born in nearby Pembroke Pines, is proud of how he's developed into an NHL professional beginning with his days with the Florida Panthers junior hockey program. But he also understands it's not easy in a non-traditional hockey market and a fan base that doesn't have the commitment of sports fans like Philadelphia. 

"Florida has been bandwagon state for sports for a while, especially down south," Gostisbehere said. "I'm pretty sure if you go to any Miami Heat games, they're not gonna be packed. But a couple of years ago they were. Obviously, when the Panthers were making the playoffs, the rats were coming back. It goes with the even flows of the team. If they're winning, there's obviously going to be more fans."

The Panthers are one of four organizations averaging under 13,000 fans through the first three months of the regular season with a building capacity of 75 percent, and perhaps even below that, as the number is based on ticket sales.  

"It bothers me a little bit," said Gostisbehere. "I grew up with it. I've seen the empty seats. Obviously, I hold them close to my heart and they're a big part of my hockey career."

"Ghost" will do his part to fill the seats tonight with his typical ticket requests for friends and family.

Projected lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek
Dale Weise-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier

Defense
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goaltending
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

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