The Bruins’ third line has been critiqued for much of the season, and for good reason. The line, which has seen plenty of changes and substitutions, just isn’t producing like it has in the past couple of seasons.
That line took an even greater hit when Chris Kelly went down with a broken tibia last month in a game against the Ottawa Senators. While Kelly’s numbers are unlikely to raise any eyebrows, there’s no denying that he’s still a serviceable two-way center in the NHL.
His absence may have been somewhat subtle, forgotten even at times. The veteran centerman returned to the lineup on Monday night, and his presence has been felt right away.
Kelly hasn’t exactly torn things up since returning, but that’s never been his game. He continues to do the little things that don’t necessarily show up in the “G-A-P” columns, but the things he does win games more often than not.
The veteran was especially effective Wednesday night in the Bruins’ 5-4 win over the New Jersey Devils. While there were plenty of things to call out and criticize on the Bruins’ side, there wasn’t much of anything to complain about in regards to Kelly’s game.
He’s one of the club’s most important penalty killers, and that was evident Wednesday. Kelly helped the Bruins kill off all eight penalties the Bruins were assessed. Kelly played 6:47 of his 16:58 of ice time on the PK. He played an integral role in keeping the Devils off the board on the power play in the second period when he got enough of his stick on Patrik Elias‘ to keep the Devils forward from scoring. Kelly was at it again in the game’s final minute. The Devils, already on the power play, pulled Martin Brodeur to give themselves a 6-on-4. Kelly eventually broke up a pass across the slot before clearing his own crease to ensure the B’s could escape with the one-goal win.
The penalty kill is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kelly’s game. With Patrice Bergeron out, the Bruins’ faceoff aptitude takes a bit of a hit. However, Kelly is pulling his weight in his return to the dot. He won 12 of 19 draws Wednesday night, and he has won 57 percent of his faceoffs in the two games he’s played since returning.
He also helps stabilize the Bruins down the middle, which is important right about now. It’s amazing how one big injury — like a concussion to Bergeron — can unsettle your lines. We saw in the couple of games between Bergeron’s injury and Kelly’s return how haywire things can go when there’s a lack of center depth. Just ask Tyler Seguin, who was clearly overwhelmed by moving to center in Bergeron’s absence. Things got so bad, in fact, that Claude Julien was forced to move Seguin back to wing Saturday night in Montreal. To accommodate that move, Julien had to move Jaromir Jagr down to a line with Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell, which doesn’t serve much purpose other than allowing Paille and Campbell to one day tell their grandkids they played on a line with Jagr.
However, with Kelly returning, things have gotten straightened out some. Kelly served the last two games as a pivot for Paille and Seguin, which allowed Jagr to move back to a line with Brad Marchand and Campbell. All the Bruins have done since making those moves was combine to score 11 goals in two games.
Julien is certainly taking note of having Kelly back in the fold. The Bruins coach called Kelly’s efforts “unbelievable” on Thursday morning.
There are still plenty of things to improve upon for the Bruins right now, but getting Kelly back is certainly going to help.
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