Flames shuffling deck?

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

The red practice sweater Dustin Boyd donned was akin to a red flag.

As the Flames hit the ice yesterday, the young centre was easy to spot, not only because of the jersey colour but also who he skated alongside in the session.

Boyd, who's made up one-third of Calgary's best line the past few outings with David Moss and Curtis Glencross had two new wingers.

He was zipping around the Westside Recreation Centre with Jarome Iginla and Michael Cammalleri.

Hold the phone. Stop the presses.

Now that's a promotion for Boyd to the top line and a switch for Cammalleri.

Nothing like a little excitement on a dreary, snowy Wednesday afternoon.

Not so fast, said head coach Mike Keenan.

"Don't read anything into him playing between Cammalleri and Iginla because I'm just experimenting," Keenan said. "Looking for someone to inspire the group of players that haven't been as consistent."

Too bad. Playing the guessing game What's My Line is a regular event around the Flames.

Who knows? Keenan may go with the new units when the Flames play host to the Nashville Predators tonight. Or he may not, though, and it wouldn't the first time he's drummed up line combinations in practice one day but gone to the same-old, same-old to start a game the next day.

More curious, though, is the game he played by making that little switch.

Coming off a pair of losses, Keenan's squad has no shortage of players needing a skate to the backside -- some literally, some figuratively.

We're not just talking about the supporting cast who could use a little bit of subtle motivation. Actually, we're not talking about that crew at all.

As the Flames brace for the Predators, those who seem to be in need of an extra bounce are the top-end gang, the first two lines.

Those six haven't been at their best in recent history, and in some cases, going back to the last few games of the club's six-game winning streak.

Let's take a gander at those who have compiled the two top lines.

Iginla has put up some points, one goal and four helpers over the past six outings, but it's been done quietly. The Calgary captain hasn't done the take-charge, pull-his-teammates-to-victory act he's done so often over the years.

Cammalleri has only one assist in the last three outings, a second-helper in Los Angeles, while Todd Bertuzzi has a minus-10 rating that is second worst in the league, Rene Bourque has been blanked in three of four games (only one assist to show in that spell) and Craig Conroy was in his own word "awful" last game.

The lone player who's been up to snuff the past few nights was Daymond Langkow, and he went through a tough stretch of his own for a handful of games.

Is Keenan sending a message to the top guys that he'll start to mess around with their roles? Is he trying to keep the third- and fourth-line players motivated by showing a willingness to give more prestigious ice time to those who deserve it?

He won't say as much, but it's likely the case.

Keenan will point out his crew, all his crew, need to be stronger from start to finish game after game after game.

"I think we want more consistency from all of our players," he said. "We're talking about the Boyd line being pretty good right now, but when we lost those games early in the season, they were fluctuating as well.

"We just haven't seen enough consistency from all of the players all of the time."

With their record (7-5-1), the Flames are nowhere near in dire straits. Nor is it like two losses adds up to a tailspin.

Still, the over-riding feeling around the Flames was their problems best be nipped in the bud as soon as possible.

"As a club, we've had two games we haven't been our best, and that should be a wake-up call it's time to come out and get a lot more hungry," said defenceman Cory Sarich. "It's got to be through the whole game. We did some good things, were forechecking well off the start, and then for some reason seemed to falter.

"We've got to keep that up the whole game."

It's worth noting in both recent losses, the Flames were strong enough at times to earn victories. Both games ended with them controlling the third-period action only to fall short.

Fatigue wasn't on their side either, having played the night before in Los Angeles before losing to Anaheim and then returning home on one night's sleep to face the Coyotes as a conclusion to four games in six nights.

Still, the message has been sent to those front-line players to again play to those front-line expectations.

Or switches will be happening.

It's out there in red.


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