Just when the Ottawa Senators appeared set to take a full, healthy lineup into the post-season, they've taken another big injury hit.
Head coach/general manager Bryan Murray revealed Sunday that versatile forward Chris Kelly has been lost to the team with a hairline fracture of his lower left leg. Kelly suffered the injury blocking a shot by Toronto defenceman Pavel Kubina during the first period of Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place — the same night forward Chris Neil
made his return after missing four weeks with a knee injury,
"Probably three weeks minimum," Murray said when asked for a best-case timetable for Kelly's return. "I don’t know that we can expect anything earlier than that. That might be pushing it.
"It’s just a faint shadow on the X-ray but it is that. Until he’s almost 100 per cent, he can’t do anything."
Kelly, who had to be helped to the dressing room after struggling to get to the Senators bench, knew right away something was wrong.
"As soon as I got hit, I tried to put pressure on it and the leg gave out.," he said. "I got to the bench and yeah, I was a little worried. I got it X-rayed right away and it showed a little crack."
A three-week absence would mean Kelly might miss at least the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, though he's hoping that won't be the case.
"It could be worse, could be a lot worse," he said. "It could have been a week later and then I would have missed the playoffs.
"Hopefully, it’s not too long. It’s tough to (have this) happen so late in the season but hopefully, I’ll be fine and back for the playoffs."
While Kelly's loss might be seen first as a major blow for the Senators' penalty killing unit — he and Antoine Vermette form the team's most effective duo — Murray said the hole in the lineup runs even deeper.
"He’s bigger than that.," said Murray. "He’s one of those guys in your room that you really like. As a coach, you know that if you get late in games, he’s one of the guys to throw out to defend a lead. He can play the right side with (Jason) Spezza and (Dany) Heatley. He can play anywhere on your team and help you.
"Obviously, it’s a big loss. He’s one of the more reliable players on our team. Not only the penalty killing, but you can play him on a checking line or you can put him in other situations where he’s a responsible player on a line."
The Senators might also be without forward Dean McAmmond on Monday night, when they face the Canadiens in Montreal in a crucial Northeast Division matchup. McAmmond suffered a quadriceps contusion during the loss to the Leafs.
"He’s been limping considerably today," said Murray. "He has to be questionable for tomorrow as well."
Even if McAmmond can't go, Murray said he won't turn to a callup from the Binghamton Senators, their American Hockey League affiliate.
"We’ve got three extra forwards here (Randy Robitaille, Brian McGrattan and Cody Bass) and two of them will have to play (in that situation)," Murray said, adding that Bass (foot) has been taken off injured reserve and "feels that he can now play."
Meanwhile, Murray has named Martin Gerber (28-15-3) his starter in goal for the 11th straight game. There's no understimating the significance of Monday's test, given that the Canadiens have pushed their lead over the Senators to five points. Ottawa has seven games remaining, Montreal just six.
"They’re five points (up) now and that’s difficult," said Murray. "We’ve got two games against them and we’ve got a game in hand to make it up.
"I expect our team will respond. It’s a real good challenge, but it’s the type of team we like to play against where there’s lots of puck skill involved and lots of speed involved. That seems to be what we match up best against, so I think it’ll be a good hockey game."