COLUMBUS, Ohio —
|Senators centre Chris Kelly, who is on pace for a career year on the offensive front, has been moved into a top-six position in the team's forward rotation for Friday's game in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. It'll also be Ottawa's last game of the 2010 calendar year (Getty Images).
He is perhaps best known for his ability to help his teammates prevent goals, especially when they're shorthanded.
Now Chris Kelly is being asked to provide a bigger assist to the Ottawa Senators' efforts at the other end of the ice.
In the wake of Wednesday night's 4-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, head coach Cory Clouston is giving one of his most versatile players the chance to centre the Senators' second line. He'll line up between Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek
when Ottawa faces off against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday evening at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).
"It's an opportunity for someone like Chris Kelly to play ... I don't want to say more of an offensive role, but more of a top-six (forward) role," Clouston said following Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "But he's still going to kill penalties."
While Kelly has been the Senators' ace penalty killer for several seasons now, he is quietly on his way to having a career year offensively, with eight goals and 16 points through 38 games. Among that total: his first career National Hockey League hat trick in Ottawa's 3-1 road victory over the New York Rangers on Dec. 5.
Mind you, Kelly isn't without some offensive pedigree, having previously scored 36 goals for the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights in 1998-99 and 24 in his last of three seasons (2004-05) with the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators.
"Everybody likes to play that more important offensive role and contribute offensively," he said. "I think I'm capable of putting up points. Not crazy points, not (Sidney) Crosby points, but contributing offensively and helping the team where it needs to be helped."
Then again, this is a player once described by Senators general manager Bryan Murray as "someone who makes every line he plays on better." Four years ago, with the team's top three centres all sidelined by injuries, Kelly up to the first line between captain Daniel Alfredsson
and Dany Heatley and helped ignite the run that eventually would propel the Senators to the Stanley Cup final. He finished that season with career bests in goals (15), assists (23) and points (38).
But Kelly will tell you there's nothing magic about the good vibe he seems to inject into the mix wherever he lines up.
"Everybody likes to play that more important offensive role and contribute offensively. I think I'm capable of putting up points. Not crazy points, not (Sidney) Crosby points, but contributing offensively and helping the team where it needs to be helped." - Chris Kelly
"I find the better the players you play with, the simpler the game needs to be," he said. "Just try to get the puck to them, get open and keep it simple. If you try to do things outside of your limitations or your character, you tend to get into trouble. I've just got to go out and play my game and my style of hockey."
The game against Columbus provides an opportunity for the Senators to exit 2010 on a high note. They don't wait long to get started into a new calendar year, facing the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year's Day at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). It's a chance, Clouston believes, for his team to quickly regroup after the loss to the Hurricanes and also chop into the six-point gap that currently separates Ottawa from a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
"We just want to make sure we understand the urgency of the situation, the time of year, the place we are in the standings and the importance of the next couple of games," he said.
Added forward Nick Foligno
: "(Wednesday) night wasn't our best performance, but we have an opportunity against Columbus to right the wrong. We need to go in there and play a real solid road game. To a man, we believe in ourselves ... we have guys in here who can win hockey games.
"We need to step up, myself included, and we all need to play better. I think if we do that, we're going to see ourselves winning lots of games."Around the boards
Ryan Shannon's wife, Jessica, got an unexpected surprise during the third period of Wednesday's loss to the Hurricanes. Shannon rang a shot off the crossbar that deflected high over the netting and, as the Sens forward put it, "landed right in her lap." Jessica left the rink wearing a bruise on her thigh as a souvenir ... The Senators are 4-2-2-1 all-time against the Blue Jackets and won the last meeting between the teams 2-1 back on Nov. 26, 2009, at Scotiabank Place ... The last time the teams faced off at Nationwide Arena, Columbus prevailed 1-0 on Jan. 30, 2009, behind the shutout goaltending of Steve Mason.