They’re a hot combination on a serious roll for the Ottawa Senators.
But on this day, at least, it wasn’t Jason Spezza
, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson
drawing the lion’s share of the media attention following the final game-day preparations for the Senators’ matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).
We speak instead today about Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette, the dynamic duo who have been at the forefront of the Sens’ brilliant – and perfect – 24-for-24 mark in the penalty killing area so far this season. They’re also regular linemates with the rugged Chris Neil
, forming an energy trio that head coach John Paddock admits will be difficult for him to consider separating at any point soon.
|Antoine Vermette continues to show his penalty killing prowess for the Senators this season (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC). |
“I really don’t want to break them up,” Paddock said in reference to the smooth chemistry Kelly and Vermette so obviously share. “When you talk about playing to the level that a player can (potentially) play at, I think those two have been as good as we’ve got.
“They’ve played right to their max. They’ve been outstanding, and they do that best together.”
While the Atlanta Thrashers kept the Senators’ No. 1 line goal-less on Tuesday night, Kelly and Vermette chipped in one apiece to help spark the Senators’ to a 3-1 victory that improved their record to a spotless 5-0-0. Kelly scored on the first shot of the game, while Vermette produced the eventual game-winner in the third period.
“We’re hoping to contribute and take a little pressure off that top line because they are our go- to (guys) most nights,” said Kelly. “If we can chip in with goals here and there, it makes it better for the team.”
When it comes to penalty killing, though, the Kelly-Vermette duo has few peers in the National Hockey League. Vermette admits both players relish the opportunity to shut down the opposition’s top guns under such circumstances, though he’s the first to credit the defencemen and goaltender behind them for making it all work.
“With the new rules, there’s a lot more penalties being called,” said Vermette. “We take a lot of pride in (penalty killing) and so far, so good. But it’s a team thing, too.”
Added captain Daniel Alfredsson
: “You take pride in all specialty teams. Maybe we pay a little more attention to (penalty killing) because we’ve got a streak going, but we know it’s not going to last forever. But the longer, the better.”
While there had been some suggestions during training camp that Vermette might be moved up to a No. 2 line with Alfredsson and Mike Fisher, he knows he’s got a good thing going with Kelly, too.
“We’ve played a lot of games together,” said Vermette. “He’s a smart player and he makes the game easier on me.”
Kelly echoed that line of thinking.
“Maybe there was a little bit of disappointment at the start that (Vermette) wasn’t playing with Alfie and Fisher but right now, he’s been doing a great job with (Chris Neil
) and I,” he said. “Hopefully, we can continue doing well.”
Less than 1,500 tickets remain for tonight’s game, while next Thursday’s home matchup with the Montreal Canadiens is rapidly approaching a sellout with only 250 tickets left.