SUN Hockey Pool

Lombardi's two-way play helps Flames down stretch

Matthew Lombardi during warm up before the Flames play the Oilers Saturday, February 09, 2008. (Sun...

Matthew Lombardi during warm up before the Flames play the Oilers Saturday, February 09, 2008. (Sun Media/Al Charest)

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 12:05 PM ET

ST. PAUL -- It was easy to spot the two assists Matthew Lombardi collected against the Edmonton Oilers in the Calgary Flames' clutch win Tuesday night.

Almost as important to head coach Mike Keenan was the defensive effort the centre displayed.

Lombardi has been promoted to one of the top lines with Craig Conroy out due to injury and stepped up. He was a part of the Flames' penalty killing units, scoring a perfect mark -- 3-for-3 -- and was also noticeable breaking up passes and stealing pucks.

"He's evolved," Keenan said. "He's been put in various roles this year, which helps make him a more complete player.

"He's played in a defensive role, and now he's in a more offensive role. But I think if you learn that defensive side of the game, you understand you'll get the offensive chances," Keenan continued.

"He's been a more competitive player as the season's gone on, more tenacious, killed penalties, taken on more minutes ... He uses his speed. He's developing into a better player."

It's a good time for Lombardi to step up.

With Conroy's status uncertain going forward -- he skated briefly but didn't partake fully in yesterday's practice -- the reliance on Lombardi will increase.

In a third-line role much of the season, it's a big reason he's off the 20-goal, 46-point pace of last season with 14 tallies and 21 assists.

But Lombardi has the skills to be a top-six forward, especially with his speed.

"When he's not moving his feet, he just becomes a regular player," said new linemate Owen Nolan, whose game-winner Tuesday was assisted by Lombardi.

"But when his feet are moving, he's so effective. He puts fear in the defence because they don't want to get embarrassed by him going by them wide or through the middle, so he backs off the defence quite a bit and helps out the line quite a bit.

"He's been playing third-line centre most of the year, so you probably don't get as much ice time as you want or think you deserve, but I think he's kept a good mindset about it and a good attitude. When he gets out there, he works hard."


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