Kelly earning praise for fill-in role
|Ottawa Senators centre Chris Kelly has embraced the opportunity of playing between wingers Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.|
by Todd Anderson
The Ottawa Senators are 6-1-1 in their last eight games, a stretch that has seen them play without Jason Spezza, who injured his knee on Dec. 21 against Tampa Bay; Mike Fisher, who suffered a knee injury against the New York Islanders on Dec. 27; and Antoine Vermette, who has been out of the lineup since injuring his hip on Dec. 30 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. One of the players to respond the most during these adverse times is centre Chris Kelly, who has filled in admirably at centre on the Senators' top line with Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.
"To me, the way he played yesterday is the way he's been playing for a while," said Senators head coach Bryan Murray, referring to Kelly's two-point performance Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers. "He's been very responsible. He was really on his game yesterday. He was attacking with confidence, and we all know full well he'll come back in his own end."
With the Senators' recent success, they've moved up to sixth in the Eastern Conference. In fact, they're tied for fifth with the New York Rangers with 48 points, but the Rangers get the edge for playing one less game. The Senators are also just three points back of Northeast Division-rival Montreal Canadiens for fourth in the conference. Kelly says he's just trying to chip in where he can as the team climbs up the standings.
"This is nice for a little while, but I'll never fill Spezz's shoes," Kelly said. "I'm just trying to get the puck to (Heatley and Alfredsson) as much as I can, and we've been pretty successful lately. The team is doing real well, and it's nice any time you're able to play a lot and contribute."
Heatley, who today was named the NHL's second star for the week ending on Jan. 7, says the transition of playing with Spezza at centre and now Kelly has been an easy one.
"It takes three guys to get things done out there, and we've adapted. We're supporting the puck real well. Kells and Alfie are always close by, so we're making 12- to 15-foot passes. It's been fun. The team as a whole has bought into the idea of skating more and working harder."