Sutter keeps gritty line intact

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

They're billed as the second line.

On many nights, though, the hard-nosed trio of Daymond Langkow, Rene Bourque and Nigel Dawes has been second to none for the Calgary Flames.

And, as a result, they're the only forward combination bench boss Brent Sutter hasn't been second-guessing as he's shuffled his deck in an attempt to ignite the offence.

"Obviously, we like playing with each other and we've had some success, and any time you've had success, I think the coaches are going to keep you together," Langkow said with a shrug. "We just try to go out there and keep it simple every night and try to contribute."

So far, so good.

Truth is, Iginla could be skating alongside enforcer Brian McGrattan and Harvey the Hound and his unit would still be heralded as the Flames' No.-1 line, but the so-called second trio has been the top one many nights so far this season.

Take, for example, Saturday's 3-1 triumph over the New York Rangers at the Saddledome, when Langkow and Bourque each scored once and Dawes collected a career-high three assists.

While Sutter fiddled with his forward combinations during a lacklustre first frame, there was little doubt that whenever Langkow climbed over the boards, Bourque and Dawes wouldn't be far behind.

Why mess with a good thing?

Bourque was red-hot through the month of October and still leads all Flames point-producers, having notched six goals and 11 assists in 15 outings.

After a relatively slow start, Langkow has scored three times in the past four tilts. And Dawes showed off his playmaking skills against his former Blueshirts buddies, setting up Iginla's eventual game-winner with a seeing-eye pass from the corner on a second-period powerplay.

With the Rangers turning up the pressure during the third frame, Dawes returned a feed to Bourque on an odd-man rush, and the feisty winger banked a shot off netminder Steve Valiquette and in for a key insurance marker.

"I think we're just finding some chemistry," Dawes said. "Bourque is off to a really hot start, and when a guy like that is playing that way, you just want to get him the puck and good things will happen. Every time he gets it down low, he's making something happen, and you just try to get to the net and keep your stick on the ice."

After Michael Cammalleri and Todd Bertuzzi were allowed to bolt as free agents in the summer, many experts pointed to "secondary scoring" as the team's biggest question mark, wondering which guys would carry the load when Iginla and Olli Jokinen weren't lighting the lamp.

Langkow, Bourque and Dawes have provided the answer. They will.

And now that the captain has caught fire, scoring four times in the past three games despite a revolving door of left-wingers, it'd be tough to argue the Flames are a one-line team.

If the second grouping wasn't expected to be a major factor in the attack, somebody forgot to tell Langkow, Bourque and Dawes.

"In the role that our line is playing, we have to provide offensively," Dawes said. "That's part of our job."

So far, it's been a job well done.

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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