SUN Hockey Pool

Middle manhunt for Flames

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- Don't believe the Calgary Flames have a true No. 1 centre?

You're not alone.

GM/head coach Darryl Sutter would concur.

He means no disrespect to his top two centres, Daymond Langkow and Steven Reinprecht. It's just Sutter doesn't believe there are many legitimate first-line centres, period.

"There's only about seven or eight actual No. 1 centremen in the National Hockey League," Sutter said.

"Until you develop a clear-cut No. 1, that's the way it is."

Which is why the Flames look upon Reinprecht and Langkow as interchangeable first liners.

"That's the way it has to be," Sutter said. "Who's the last actual clear-cut No. 1 centreman this team had? Joe Nieuwendyk.

"When I look at our centremen, I look at (Edmonton's Jarret) Stoll and (Shawn) Horcoff and I expect them to be as good as them. They have to be as good as them for us to beat Edmonton."

Langkow and Reinprecht's scoring stats are identical. Heading into tonight's clash against the Predators in Nashville (6 p.m., PPV), they both have four goals and 11 assists.

Be assured both players, as well as everyone else in the Flames organization, would love for more production but the consensus view is they've given the team two scoring lines, which wasn't the case in past seasons.

Reinprecht, currently playing with Iginla, accepts the situation.

"We have Iggy as our main forward and build around him," Reinprecht said. "A lot of guys are interchangeable and can play with Iggy, and whoever is playing well and working well with him and producing, that's who'll it'll be. The first thing is to win -- that's what you're looking for -- so you shuffle things around until things work out.

"And if they don't, you shuffle them around again. That's the coach's job."

Reinprecht wasn't the first choice to skate with Iginla. Through training camp and the opening month of the regular season, Langkow was teamed with Iginla and Tony Amonte -- with disappointing results.

For that, Langkow accepts the blame.

"It just didn't pan out. We still might play together again but that's just the way it works out," said Langkow, who has found a groove with Amonte and Darren McCarty.

Sutter, however, doesn't see Langkow as the problem in that slow start.

"The reason it didn't work early had nothing to do with who the centreman was," Sutter said. "I don't think it had anything to do with Langkow or Rhino (Reinprecht). Jarome had a tough time early, which he always does, and that's the way it works."

As for who'll be Calgary's top centre in the near future, nothing is set in stone.

It's possible the Flames could bring in a higher-level centre (Doug Weight will be available), just as it's possible Langkow could be reunited with Iginla and catch fire or Reinprecht could solidify his spot.

Sutter admits he doesn't know the answer yet, especially with Matthew Lombardi still on the shelf with an ankle injury.

"Daymond's a proven 20-goal, 30-assist guy, so that's what we expect of him ... When Rhino's on, he's really good and when he's not, you can't use him."


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