Kelly to play pivotal role with Bergeron out


Kelly to play pivotal role with Bergeron out

By Joe Haggerty

BOSTON Heading into this weekends start to the Eastern Conference Finals, its not much of an overstatement to say Chris Kelly might be the most important player on the Bruins' roster.

It would haveseemed funny to say when Kelly managed only 5 points in 24 regular seasongames for the Bruins after general manager Peter Chiarelli acquired him from Ottawa for a second-round pick. His lackluster start had people viewing the gritty, two-way center as nothing more than wallpaper on a good hockey team.

But Kelly moved into this seasons playoffs with more than 40 games of postseason experience on his resume as a member of the OttawaSenators and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance already on his resume. Those big-game instincts, and the playoff poise that nearly alwayscomes with them, will be needed as he attempts to authorhis best poor mans Patrice Bergeron impersonation against the Lightning.

Kelly has come a long way from the center who earned amuch-discussed16:47 of ice time in Game 1 against the Canadiens. After that game, he caught the ire of Bs fans everywhere for getting more time on the sheet than the man hes now replacing in Bergeron (15:47).But that was before he exploded offensively against the Habs after getting thrown head first into the post by Scott Gomez in Game Three.

Chiarelli threw out the "P.J. Axelsson" parallel for Kelly at the conclusion of the Montreal series in terms of hockey intelligence and competence in all three zones on the ice, and the seven points in 11 postseason gameswas vitalfor Boston.

Nobody is expecting the Bs offense to continue running with the same efficiency when Bergeron out, but Kelly's put up impressive offensive numbers during the playoffs. As Lloyd Christmas might say in "Dumb and Dumber" about another potential offensive outburst against Tampa Bay, "so you're saying there's a chance."

I think Kelly obviously is -- what he produced offensively, point-wise and goals and all that stuff -- he has certainly been refreshing for us, said coach Claude Julien. We know he was a good, solid two-way player, we maybe didnt expect as much offensively as weve seen so far. So thats been great.

True, Tyler Seguin will get his playoffshot now that Bergeron is sidelined with a mild concussion. But its Kelly who will slide into Bergeron's center spot between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi and help take controls of a vital forward group. Bergeron, Marchand and Recchi had been rolling for the Black and Gold. They combined for an obscenely good plus-25 in the first 11 games against the Canadiens and the Flyers, and they were a dual threat. Not only were Bergeron and Marchand exploding against other teams' second and third defense pairings, but the trio was locking down other teams' best offensive players in true checking-line fashion.

Marchand and Recchi are great players, said Kelly. Whatever needs to be done or wherever Claude wants to be me, I think there are plenty of guys that are capable of playing with them. If I do end up playing with them then itll be a fun experience. Well see what happens and go forward from there.

Obviously you cant replace Bergie. He does every little thing that maybe goes unnoticed by a lot of people, but it doesnt go unnoticed by us. He does all of the big things that get noticed as well. Hes irreplaceable and hopefully hes good to go against the Lightning.

Kelly will slide right into the defensive responsibilities and faceoff duties Bergeron hasskillfully mastered, and the former Senators center pointed to his experience in Ottawa as the prime reason hed have little trouble moving up the lines. Let's just say he made his bones with a lot of different players during his time in Ottawa.

Wherever the coach needed me to play on any line, any position and any situation, it was a challenge that Ive always been ready to take on," said Kelly.

Going from Peverley and Ryder to Recchi and Marchand might be a little easier than in Ottawa going from Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu to playing with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza. Its a big difference. Not in a bad way, but they are just very different players. I think itll be a much easier transition than some of the ones Ive made in the past.

Kelly has also been a guy who's taken on a little of the missing Axelsson leadership role within the Bs dressing room.It clearly took some time in the feeling out process to get comfortable blending his leadership voice with the establishment in the room, but Kelly chimes in now when something needs to be said along with the rest of the veteran B's chorus.

Ill do anything I can to help this team, said Kelly. Obviously coming into a dressing room thats as established as this team, you just want to come in and help. Nobody wants to come in and be the loud guy within a group of players that you dont know.

As I got more comfortable and the guys got more comfortable with me, if theres something that needs to be said then I dont mind being the guy to step up and say it. Ninety-nine percent of it is always positive, and everybody here really wants to step up and do the right thing to help the team.

Fold the leadership, faceoff and defensive components into the Kelly tool box and the Bruins are getting a facsimilie of Bergeron without the elite playmaking.

The question against the Lightning: Will Kelly be able to replicate the offense he provided around the net while scoring six points in seven games against the Canadiens, who play similarly to Tampa Bay?

Kellys ability to generate some offense could be the deciding factor in the series, and that means a guy with 35 total games in a Bruins uniform could be the biggest difference-maker in the biggest Bs playoff series in 19 years.

Who would have ever guessed that when Kelly, Peverley and Tomas Kaberle were dealt to the Bruins in February?

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins looking to avoid anxious moments on home ice

Bruins looking to avoid anxious moments on home ice

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins will have plenty of proud history on display for tonight’s home opener when Bobby Orr and Milt Schmidt drop the ceremonial first puck at TD Garden prior to the game against the New Jersey Devils.

Orr is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first NHL game, and the amazing Schmidt is there for the 80th anniversary of his rookie NHL season, and it will be up to the current crop of B’s players afterward to play up to the standards of those two Hall of Fame legends. That was a difficult challenge for the Black and Gold last season as they struggled to a 17-18-6 record on home ice and experienced some of their worst regular-season efforts in front of the paying home customers.

When placed side-by-side with a road record (25-13-3), where only the Sharks and Capitals had more victories on the road last season, it was clear the B’s had some strange motivational issues at the Garden. Whether it was leadership, maturity or the coach to blame for their home malaise, the Bruins are looking to reverse that trend this season after an encouraging 2-1 start on the first three-game road trip of the season.

In fact, Brad Marchand didn’t even want to entertain thoughts about last year’s home ice funk.

“Last year has nothing to do with this year. We’ve got a lot of new guys and a lot of new faces, and we’re looking to have a big start at home and have a big year. We want to try and start that tonight,” said Brad Marchand. “We don’t have to get anxious and too excited. We play a good road game and if we play the same way at home as we do on the road then hopefully we’ll be okay.”

The home ice anxiousness was clear on many occasions for the Bruins whether it was getting blown out at the Winter Classic, getting smoked in Milan Lucic’s return to the Garden with the LA Kings or epically blowing the final game of the season vs. Ottawa with the playoffs on the line. It will be interesting to see what a big personality and hardened, vocal leader David Backes can bring to combat some of the home ice skittishness of last season. 

One other thing the Bruins will be looking to change: allowing the other team to score the first goal, as they’ve done in all three games to start this season. It could perhaps be excused with the B’s playing the polite visitor at the emotional home openers for  the Blue Jackets and the Maple Leafs last week, but now it’s their turn to jack up the emotional level and make TD Garden a much more difficult place to play than it was for the majority of last season. 


Slow-starting Krejci looking for a spark in Bruins’ home opener

Slow-starting Krejci looking for a spark in Bruins’ home opener

BRIGHTON, Mass. – David Krejci hasn’t exactly been his usual self in the opening three games of the season for the Bruins and there are understandable, underlying reasons for that. 

One of them is that the 30-year-old playmaking center is coming off major offseason hip surgery and that’s made him look less than his silky-smooth best with the puck in the season’s first three games.

The good news is Krejci doesn’t believe any lingering hip problems have been a big factor at all, and instead his comfort level is increasing each time he takes the ice.

“I feel better and better every day. This is a tough injury, but I’m in good shape and in really good hands. The doctors have done a really good job with me every day, and it’s been really good,” said Krejci, who has one assist in the opening three games with just three shots on net while fighting to hang onto the puck. “It’s been fun to be out there with the guys, and I’m just trying to get better every day.”

A more reasonable explanation for Krejci’s sluggish start was the last-second injury to Patrice Bergeron prior to the start of the season and the major alteration to his forward line as a result of No. 37’s absence. David Backes was pulled from the right wing spot on the Krejci line to fill in for Bergeron over the season’s first three games and he came away with two goals and three points in three games centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

But the B’s second line was almost non-existent with smaller, skilled wingers on either side of Krejci that weren’t able to generate anything productive with No. 46. The B’s obviously have massive production from the top line in Bergeron’s absence and have found a respectable fourth line that can get the job done for Claude Julien. Even the third line has found some footing after the B’s bench boss replaced rookie Austin Czarnik with veteran Riley Nash and instead went with a bigger, tougher power line with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes on the wings.

Now, Backes goes back to his rightful spot on the wing with Krejci and 21-year-old rookie Danton Heinen looks to replace a scuffling Ryan Spooner at left wing for tonight’s home opener vs. the New Jersey Devils. Backes is ready to bring some needed balance to the forward lines after the B’s top line really carried them over the first three games of the season and produced a team-high four goals for David Pastrnak.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Backes also knows that he’s exactly the kind of strong, determined net-front presence with goal-scoring ability that Krejci has always produced with over the course of his 10-year NHL career.

“I won’t be involved in the immediate face-off, but [I will be involved] in helping him on the 50/50 draws to win the puck back. Just talk all over the ice like we have been with Heinen on the wing he’s got two veteran guys with him, and we need to make him feel comfortable to be a very productive member [of the line],” said Backes. “We’ll get back to cooking a little bit with how we were looking before I was forced to play center.

“I think it puts the other teams in a predicament with that they’re going to try to defend if we have a couple-pronged attack. It’s a kind of pick-your-poison kind of deal. A checking line can typically do a good job of neutralizing a line, but when you have multiple options and multiple guns pointed at them it’s a little bit more of a predicament for them. When we’re healthy, we’re going to have that.”

So, the hope is that having a power forward, play-finisher like Backes is going to allow him time and space to create plays that have a little more hope of being turned into scoring chances at the offensive end of the ice.

“When injuries happen you’ve got to balance the team and that’s what happened. But I’m happy [Backes] is back on our line,” said Krejci, who has always been at his best while utilizing big, strong wingers on his line whether it was Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton over the years. “Hopefully we can get the chemistry early on as a line, and help the team to win.

“[Backes] is a right-handed shot, so that’s nice to have.  I had two lefties there [in Spooner and Heinen] and sometimes it’s tough to get a good pass on the backhand. He’s been playing well the first two games, so hopefully I can keep up and we can get some chemistry to help the team win.”

So, it remains to be seen how long it will take Krejci to find his offensive mojo while centering a line combo of Heinen-Krejci-Backes that didn’t get much of a look in the preseason, but the sooner, the better for a Bruins team that needs to start firing on all offensive cylinders while still working through their defensive challenges.