CALGARY – No one can doubt that Matthew Lombardi has top-notch speed.
Now the Calgary Flames forward wants to prove that he also has the hands required to score goals in the National Hockey League.
Lombardi tallied his first goal of the pre-season Thursday night in the first period of a 3-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
After making a quick move in front of the net and depositing the puck past Phoenix goalie Mikael Tellqvist, Lombardi took a big hit from Coyotes defenceman Logan Stephenson.
“I got clocked a little bit on the chin there,” said Lombardi, noting that he’ll gladly take a hit to get a goal. “Whatever, it kind goes away quick when you get a goal.”
Calgary coach Mike Keenan said he’s hoping to see Lombardi do the same thing once the regular season starts.
“That’s the idea,” Keenan said. “When there’s pucks in the slot area like that, if you’re willing to pay a little bit of a price, you can score a lot of goals.”
After dipping to 14 goals and 22 assists in 82 games last season after a 20-goal, 26-assist campaign the year before, Lombardi said he’s ready and willing to do what it takes this season to increase his scoring output.
“You’ve just got to go to the front of the net, get some pucks, get some dirty goals and it’ll open up the rest of the game for you,” said the 26-year-old Montreal native who notched 57 goals and 73 assists in his final season with the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres in 2001-02.
“You’ve got to believe you can do it and just keep at it. It’s going to come. I’ve got the confidence I can do it.”
And his teammates have confidence in him, especially captain Jarome Iginla who played on a line with Lombardi and Todd Bertuzzi during Thursday’s victory over the Coyotes.
“He’s had good years, but I think he’s ready for a breakout season,” Iginla said. “He looks awesome. I know confidence has a big part for all of us as players. Each year you get another year under your belt, you feel better when you come back.”
Entering his fifth NHL season, Lombardi will have higher expectations placed on him to produce as a second-line centre.
“That expectation is definitely there for him,” Keenan said. “I think he grew last year. He took on greater responsibilities as the year went on, for example penalty killing. He became better at it. He has to step up and give us that skill and take it to a new level.”
With less than two weeks before the start of the regular season, the six-foot, 196-pound centreman just wants to keep improving so he can reach a new level of intensity.
“You want to get better every day,” he said. “You come in here and you want to be in the best shape and then when you’re in training camp you want to get into the best game-shape you can and get ready for the first game.”
The Flames hosted the Florida Panthers on Friday night to finish off a stretch of four games in four nights to start their seven-game exhibition schedule.
Keenan said it’s been more taxing on the coaching staff than the players though.
“We haven’t played anyone more than two games,” Keenan said. “We had enough players here to handle the needs, the mathematical equation of having enough veterans to satisfy the NHL requirements and to get a good handle on our young players.”
Next week, the Flames will play road games against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday and the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday before rounding out their pre-season schedule with a rematch against the Oilers at the Saddledome on Oct. 3.