SUN Hockey Pool

Whose line is it anyway?

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

Shortly after 8:30 p.m. tonight, the puck drops on the Calgary Flames' 29th season.

Exactly who will be the first player to take a swipe at it is anybody's guess, as coach Mike Keenan refuses to tip his hand on which trio will start the year as his top line.

Truth be known, he hasn't been all that forthcoming on any of his lines.

And while we've come to expect over the last year that his line combos will forever be as varied as the lotto machines dispensing Quick Picks, surely he has some idea how he sees the threesomes jumping over the boards early on.

"I would just say 'fasten your seatbelts,' " laughed the head coach when asked what to tell readers and poolsters about his forward troupes.

"I haven't got any idea at this point. Make it up."

So, here goes.

While conventional wisdom would have Daymond Langkow between Todd Bertuzzi and longtime linemate Jarome Iginla, Keenan did his best to disguise that by putting Matthew Lombardi in the middle of the power forwards yesterday.

This despite the fact Lombardi just missed six days with the flu, has lost considerable weight and energy and may not even dress for the game.

Keenan also had Mike Cammalleri centre Big Bert and Iginla to keep us all guessing.

The second line saw Langkow up the middle with Cammalleri on the left side and Rene Bourque on the right, where he has never played until this year.

Those six are all but assured to rotate amongst the top two lines, barring injury and the odd hunch from Iron Mike.

When it was pointed out 11 Flames have the capability of playing centre, Keenan's grin widened. Such versatility gives the mix-master an even broader canvas to work with.

"I think that's always a good thing -- it's going to help us with injuries and matching," said Keenan, whose club opens tonight in Vancouver.

"People em-brace familiarity, but over an 82-game schedule, it never works out that way. It's very seldom where you have three people start the season and end up playing together the whole season that way. There are just so many dynamics of the game and variables involved that change things a little bit.

"Sometimes, you can get it settled out and it works well, and if it's not broke don't fix it.

"So we'll start out and go from there."

The one line Keenan has stuck with each of the last three pre-season games, for good reason, is the third unit of Curtis Glencross, Dustin Boyd and David Moss.

Combining for 20 points in six games to lead all Flames scorers, it appeared to give the club the type of potency a "checking line" hasn't had here for eons.

However, Boyd's two-way contract opened the door for him to be sent down after practice yesterday, which explains why he skated on the fourth unit. That left Craig Conroy, who skated on the top unit a day earlier, between Glencross and Moss.

"I know to start even Game 1, there is going to be a lot of jockeying and there are going to be matchups against Jarome for sure," said Keenan.

"It's like starting a playoff series -- it really is. We'll be into it from Day 1 and the first five games against teams in our division -- including the back-to-back series with Edmonton -- there's going to be a lot of movement of players amongst the group."

That leaves tough guy Andre Roy and Wayne Primeau to anchor the fourth unit with Brandon Prust and Eric Nystrom battling for the final spot.

As for the powerplay... aw, forget it.

Just tune in and watch.


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