He is the thinking man’s player, an Ottawa Senators forward with the keenest of hockey sense.
While Chris Kelly knows he’ll never overwhelm anyone with his physical talents, he’s well aware there are many ways to get the job done. Whether he’s killing penalties and filling the void on one of the Senators’ top lines, his smarts for the game always come to the fore in a significant way.
“I think it’s a big part of my game,” said Kelly, who’s now in his fifth full season with the Senators. “That’s one of my strengths, reading the play and knowing our system and knowing where to be at certain times. It’s helped me get to where I am today.
“There are guys that are much faster and more skilled and much bigger and stronger, but I tend to go out there and think the game and use my mind as a tool as well as my body.”
No matter where he lines up, Kelly uses that tool effectively. Indeed, general manager Bryan Murray looks at the 29-year-old Toronto native and sees a player who “just makes every line he plays on better.” And Kelly has worked everywhere from the Senators’ top line to a checking role during his time in a Senators uniform.
“I don’t mind doing different things,” he said. “It helps the team if I’m versatile or if I can play any of the three forward positions. Obviously, everyone likes to score goals, but sometimes that’s not needed. I don’t dislike any (role). I don’t overly enjoy anything. But I do like killing penalties and I think I’ve established myself as a penalty killer in the league.”
Ask Kelly what makes an effective penalty killer and the theme is a simple one – no pain, no gain. Not to mention that gift he has for thinking the game so well.
“The systems that we use have helped all of us become penalty killers,” he said. “It’s just reading the play and being patient and knowing when to jump in at certain times. And being willing to sacrifice your body at times.
“You’ve got to get in the shooting lanes sometimes (to block a shot), even though you know it’s going to hurt. I think just a combination of things end up making you a pretty good penalty killer.”
During the Senators’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 2006-07, Kelly got a prime chance to see how the other half lives. When centre Jason Spezza
went down with an injury, Murray plugged Kelly in between Daniel Alfredsson
and Dany Heatley on his No. 1 line. The trio never missed a beat and it helped fuel the winning streak that ignited the Sens’ drive to the Cup final.
“I had a lot of fun playing with those two,” said Kelly, who scored a career-high 15 goals that season. “When you play with the skilled players, some guys tend to overdo things. But playing with better players, you just need to keep the game simple and get them the puck and get open. I had a lot of success playing with them. It was a lot of fun, especially when the team was doing that well. It was that much more enjoyable.”
No matter how high or how low his scoring totals, Kelly said team success always comes first.
“It’s the nights when you miss those (scoring) opportunities and you end up losing 3-2 that you dwell on them a little more,” he said. “But the better the team does, the better individuals will do in this room. That’s the way it is with any professional team.”