By Joe Haggerty
It didnt take long for Chris Kelly to show exactly what hell be bringing to the table in Boston.
The newly acquired Bruins center was the first of several trade dominoes to fall during the month of February, and the 30-year-old was dropped right into playoff-level intensity games after floundering in Ottawa all season.
It was a far cry fromtheSenators,where he was skatingfor a Sens team thats been completely stripped down, and Kelly jumped right into the pressure cooker. He won a pair of face-offs late in the third period in a tight 3-1win over the Vancouver Canucks last weekend, and it was the gritty Kelly who blocked a pair of shots on an important penalty kill late in the game.
The late penalty kills and ice time in the third period -- or"winning time as it'sknown to some --were the kind of assignments that show just how confident Claude Julien is in assigningresponsibility and trust in Kellys game, and thats always the ultimate test with the Bruins coach.
The one thing I can tell you about Chris now that Ive had him a few games is this: you respect and like his game when you coach against him, and you like it even more if things have hit the fan," said Julien. "We heard about his demeanor, his attitude and ability to play under pressure, but you can also see how smart he is out there.
Ive only had him for a few games, but it says something.
Kelly is on pace for 16 goals and 16 assists this season while now manning the middle of Bostons third line between Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley and its clear the line's chemistry is being formed quickly. Both wingers really like to shoot the puck, obviously, and it comes down to Kelly figuring out when and where each forward likes the puck. The trio is beginning to develop the understanding of where each other skater fits on the ice, and that's paramount to generating offensive pressure.
Above and beyond the occasional offense, however, is the willingness to play the shot-blocking, faceoff role that could earn Kelly a lot more ice bags than easyplaudits over the course of the season and theninto the playoffs.
They had a great group before Rich Peverley and I came here, and weve been put in roles that we can succeed and do a good job while keeping it simple, said Kelly. I like our team. We skate well, we have big bodies and we have some really good goalies.
Its been good. Things are getting better each and every game. The Bruins kind of knew what they were getting into with me, and they put me in a great position to succeed. Those are the things that help a team become successful and win. I dont mind doing then. A lot of times it might go unnoticed, but the guys in the locker room notice it and appreciate it.
Kelly has logged in with a 53.8 percent success rate in faceoffs during his five games with the Bruins, and he gives Julien a pair of options for draws should the center continue to be kicked out of the circle. Thats part of the reason Julien credits the flexibility that allows the Bs to utilize either Kelly or Peverley as centers on the draw, and the same could be said of Bergeron and Marchand when wither of them is tossed out.
One thing thats clear is Andrew Ference hasnt completely put his injury woes behind him with the team traveling to Boston during an off-day of travel. Theres a void on the ice for leadership, intangibles and the willingness to play a physical brand of hockey, and Kelly has provided some of that in a package that plays roughly 15 minutes per night.One big difference that Julien has seen with both Peverley and Kelly: they've had to pay their dues and learn the little lessons of hockey in the minor league. Kelly played several seasons in the AHL and Peverley logged parts of two seasons in the ECHL. Blake Wheeler certainly had plenty ofsize and skating skill, but the instincts and attention to detail weren't always there given his jump straight from the University of Minnesota to the NHL.The new guys have those natural instincts honed in the minors."We've got to be careful we don't say everybody has to go through that, but it never hurts," saidJulienwhen asked about playing in theminors. "What it does is builds character, and they are character players. When you've gone through those leagues and ridden those buses and the schedules, even the situations you have to play through are never easy."It's like you can never be a great playerwithout going through some tough times. Some thing as a player and for coaches, and everything else. That's certainly what makes them now great character players."
Kelly might notlight up the scoresheet, but his "character" certainly gets the job done.