SUN Hockey Pool

Lombo's third-line spark

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Matthew Lombardi's early-season point production should be worthy of a greater role with the Calgary Flames.

Seeing as the 25-year-old centre is right up there on the club's scoring parade -- fifth on the squad with five goals and four assists -- it wouldn't be out of the question to see Lombardi skating alongside the top forwards.

Especially with the way Craig Conroy has struggled early, despite spending most of his time on the top line with Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay.

For now, though, Lombardi is earning his keep as the anchor on the team's third line -- currently flanked by David Moss and Eric Nystrom -- and well aware what a regular contribution from that trio can mean.

"If you look around the league, I don't think there's many teams that can say they've got three solid lines that can produce," Lombardi said yesterday. "Obviously we're not like Jarome's line, and we're not like Langks (Daymond Langkow) and those guys, but we definitely want to contribute as much as we can.

"That should be our goal, to help those two lines, because those guys have a lot of pressure on them."

Secondary scoring has been a problem for what seems an eternity, but this season may finally be the end of the dead-puck era in the Saddledome.

Not only do the Flames have a pair of lines that can score consistently -- Iginla, Tanguay and Conroy as one threesome, and Langkow, Huselius, along with the struggling Owen Nolan as the other -- but Lombardi's unit is chipping in regularly.

Sure, they're not lighting it up, but the young trio of Lombardi, Moss and Nystrom -- the only forwards actually drafted by Calgary on the roster -- is giving opposition clubs another group to monitor.

And for those who believe Lombardi's production, which has him on pace to garner 30 goals and nearly 60 points, has come only alongside the club's stars, chew on these facts:

- Only one of his goals was assisted by any of the team's top-four point-producing players, and that was because he replaced Langkow on a line change before being sprung on the rush by Iginla.

- One of his goals was unassisted, one came with Rhett Warrener getting a helper, another was set up by Stephane Yelle and the other was created by Moss and David Hale.

- Goals Lombardi has assisted on have been scored by Cory Sarich, Robyn Regehr, Marcus Nilson and Moss.

"I'm playing my game the way I think I have to," said Lombardi, the speedster in the first season of a three-year, US$5.5 million contract. "There's gonna be some ups and downs, but it's about trying to be as consistent as you can."

It's a big improvement on his production last season in a similar situation.

Lombardi had a breakout campaign in 2006-07, reaching the 20-goal standard for the first time in his career along with 26 assists.

However, the bulk of his offence came before Conroy was re-acquired and supplanted him on the top two lines. In the 49 games before Conroy's arrival last season, Lombardi had 15 goals and 18 assists.

After that, it was a struggle for the club's third-round pick from 2002, although a couple of injuries slowed him even if they didn't keep him out of the lineup.

This season, he's taken any role -- including a few stints at wing -- in stride.

"I'm also getting an opportunity in different situations, playing on the penalty kill consistently and here and there on the powerplay, so my minutes are up from last year," Lombardi said. "If the coaching staff thinks tonight they'll need me on the wing, then that's where I'm gonna play and that's fine."

Lombardi would never campaign for a bigger role such as moving to a line with Iginla and Tanguay, but its noteworthy the success he's had when placed along top players.

Like when he was a big part in Canada's gold medal world championship team last spring, pacing the squad with 12 points in nine games.


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