Kelly's return to form a big key for Bruins

Kelly's return to form a big key for Bruins
October 4, 2013, 10:00 am
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Chris Kelly was acutely aware of how much he, and by connection his third line, struggled mightily last season.

The B’s alternate captain didn’t shy away from it when returning this season for training camp, and clearly put some work in this summer in Ottawa to make sure he was ready for the season. That will happen to a proud 32-year-old NHL veteran coming off three goals and a minus-8 rating in 34 regular season games after earning the biggest payday of his professional hockey career.

Kelly was among a number of NHL veterans stuck in limbo while the lockout was resolved, and didn’t appear ready to play when the season began. Then the two-way center broke a bone in his leg on a freak play with Chris Neil, and didn’t resemble his typically reliable game until the final couple weeks of the playoffs when he teamed with Tyler Seguin and Daniel Paille for an effective third line.

Judging by his triple deke penalty shot goal inspired by Mighty Ducks coach Gordon Bombay and his typically solid two-way play throughout the 60 minute season opener, the real Kelly was back in Boston’s 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden.

The fine first regular season game followed an excellent training camp where Kelly scored goals, found instant chemistry with Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith, and then translated it over into the 82-game season.

“I think [Kelly] had a really good camp. It showed in camp, I think it showed in the Finals last year that he was a good player for us. Coming off that injury, I think he just really had a tough time finding his game and certainly wasn’t skating the way we knew he could,” said Claude Julien. “But he’s been really good since last year’s Finals and again at training camp, and now tonight.

“So it’s good to see him play that well because it’s going to certainly help that third line be the kind of line we expect it to be. It’s nice to see him confident right now, and even the penalty shot, a great move from an experienced player.”

Also encouraging to see with Kelly: winning 12-of-17 face-offs with some typically hardnosed defense, and a penalty killing clinic that included the shorthanded breakaway leading to Kelly’s trick penalty shot. The Kelly penalty shot was a thing of beauty with three different forehand, backhand, forehand fakes before Anders Lindback got himself out of position, and Kelly merely flipped the backhanded shot into the open net.

“I kind of had an idea what I was going to do before. I try that move in practice but Tuukka [Rask] doesn’t move, so it ends up just going into his pad . . .  it’s kind of deflating,” said Kelly. “But I was happy he bit. He’s a big guy and [you have to] kind of shoot high because he takes away a lot of the upper net. I just tried to freeze him.”

Above and beyond Kelly’s play that opened up the scoring in a lackluster first period for Boston, he also continued to build chemistry with Jordan Caron and Reilly Smith on a third line that looks infinitely better than last season. Caron also had what appeared to be a goal when he followed his own shot, and popped a goal in off a loose puck rebound in the crease.

But the ref lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle when the puck clearly should have been in play. It was a lost scoring chance for Caron, but also further proof the B’s third line is regaining their effectiveness with nine shots generated from the three forwards.

“I think we had a good game. Kells [Chris Kelly] was talking to us a lot, and we had some good chances offensively. We could have scored a few goals but it didn’t go our way tonight,” said Caron. “We have to keep doing the little things, and for myself I just need to not be scared to make mistakes offensively, and good things are going to happen.”

That talkativeness and willingness to shepherd along younger players is exactly one of the reasons why Kelly is wearing the “A” on his Bruins sweater, although the dry-humored center had another reason.

“We all fight to see who wins it, and Zee usually wins so he gets to wear the ‘C’ every game,” said Kelly. “Bergeron is surprisingly really strong, and that’s why he gets the ‘A’ every single game. But I’m a dirty fighter. That’s how I got [my letter].”

Aside from his willingness to do whatever is necessary to keep the letter on his sweater, his ability to elevate his game when needed has always been a hallmark of his time with the Bruins. That last attribute wavered a little bit last year during a strange lockout season, but it returned Thursday night to give Boston the forward depth they require for effectiveness.

Kelly and Co. will need to continue that play based on a strong training camp followed by a promising opening night performance, but there’s no reason to doubt it will continue for the gritty third line guy. He just needs to go out and continue to prove that last year was an aberration coming off a 20-goal season that registered as the best of his nine-year career.