SUN Hockey Pool

Matthew sweet in 16

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. -- There's no room for resentment in the Calgary Flames dressing room.

When the team added centre Craig Conroy and immediately reunited him with Jarome Iginla, fans figured someone's minutes were going to drop.

Despite a career year, Matthew Lombardi was the prime candidate for the cut. He's young and still trying to reach the level of consistency coaches expect of him.

Many assumed the perceived demotion would rub him the wrong way. Truth be told, while his minutes dropped from an average of more than 17 to fewer than 15 over the handful of games since Conroy returned, Lombardi doesn't have time to worry about such things.

"I don't think we can. We're trying to be the best team we can be. It's about winning games," said the selfless Lombardi, who scored his side's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jackets Thursday night.

"We're in the race right now and it just makes the team that much better. Everyone should be excited."

No one is overly enthused after a pair of disappointing efforts against struggling teams from Chicago and Columbus this week but the depth the Flames boast down the middle is an important part of what they hope is a blueprint for a Stanley Cup contender.

"Since I've been here, it's the deepest we've had at centre," said assistant coach Rob Cookson, in his seventh season with the Flames.

Cookson says friendly competition among the top three centres should make them all better. Lombardi's ice time will still be dictated by his play -- proof of which came Thursday when he cracked the 16-minute mark for the first time in six contests.

"He's having a career year stats-wise and he's playing with a lot of confidence. He will challenge some of those other players for some ice time, for sure, if he wants to. It's up to him," said Cookson.

"Unfortunately, when you add a player such as Conroy who's had success here before, an established veteran in the league, somebody's going to lose minutes. That's inevitable. But I've never seen teams win Cups without four good lines and good centremen on each line."

Head coach Jim Playfair shook up his lines in practice in advance of tonight's game against the Sabres at HSBC Arena (5 p.m., CBC), to send the player's a message they have to be better. He said the combinations may not stay the same during the game.

Regardless of who he plays with, Iginla knows he's lucky to have a variety of potential playmakers at his side.

The captain skated with Daymond Langkow and Jeff Friesen but is also comfortable with Conroy, Lombardi and Stephane Yelle.

"Being a winger and you look at the depth up the middle, you're in a pretty fortunate position whether you're playing with Langkow or Connie or Lombo or Yeller," Iginla said.

"They're all very good centremen and not every team has that."


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