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Calgary Flames

Pairing Up: Sutter Piecing Lines Together With Duos



Under Darryl Sutter, the Calgary Flames were historically a lines-in-a-blender team.

During his previous time behind the bench in Calgary, and even his days as the general manager, the Flames forwards were constantly changing.

It wasn’t until he found great success with last season’s top trio that Sutter stuck with a group so firmly that it would land near the top of the list of together time.

Maybe it was an easy decision to make, given the almost instant chemistry for Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.

Sutter shifted Tkachuk, previously a left winger, over to his off side and magic happened. All three became 40-goal scorers. Two of them 100-point producers.

Judging solely from what we’ve seen in the preseason so far, it doesn’t look like there will be an all-eggs-in-a-basket option this season.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Calgary Flames.

Heavily dependent on that top line last year played a role in their ultimate downfall in the playoffs. They didn’t match the Edmonton Oilers deep enough at the centre position. Their defensive depth was also an issue with the injury to Chris Tanev destabilizing the defence.

GM Brad Treliving addressed both in the offseason, adding Nazem Kadri down the middle and picking up a top defenceman MacKenzie Weegar in the Tkachuk trade.

After Monday night’s preseason tilt against the Seattle Kraken, we can at least look at some pairings that make sense up front. Sutter has long been a believer that you can put two people together to form the core of a line and have a rotating third wheel.

“That’s how the league is. I can say that. At the same time, we had lines last year that pretty much stayed together. Just because they were successful,” Sutter said recently.

Monday, at least two pairings showed the promising signs of solidification.

Nazem Kadri finally got to play with the winger tabbed for early exploration. Andrew Mangiapane made his preseason debut and the two looked really good together.

That in spite of the fact Kadri passed on drafting Mangiapane in their offseason three-on-three sessions.

Meanwhile, Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman looked dominant at times. They will likely anchor a third line that can do some serious offensive damage in mismatches with opponents.

As for the top line, we have yet to see the kind of finish expected from Tyler Toffoli and Lindholm. And they’ve been playing with an elite playmaker.

“Jonathan Huberdeau is probably the best passer that this team has had in maybe ever,” Sutter said. “Those guys receiving that pass have to be a little bit more prepared for it. That hasn’t been the case yet.”

If Kadri/Mangiapane and Backlund/Coleman are a thing, then by default, so are Lindholm/Huberdeau.

But who rides shotgun on those lines come Oct. 13 is still undecided.

Toffoli, Dube and Kevin Rooney are the last to try their hands at those top three slots. But newcomer Radim Zohorna will likely get a chance to show he belongs in the mix. PTOs Sonny Milano and Cody Eakin have just a few days left to show they can fit in.

Toffoli has first crack at that top line but it could become a revolving door all season. And you can bet Treliving is still working those phones exploring the NHL trade market.

Although Sutter says that will be up to the players.

“You need your top guys to take a step here. I don’t think that’s shown who can play with who up front at all yet. We’ve always liked Mikael and Blake together, so my preference is to leave them,” Sutter said.

“But after that I’m wide open to anything.”