November 27, 2011

Kelly's early-season surge continues in win over Winnipeg

By Jesse Connolly

Chris Kelly tallied twice in the Bruins 4-2 win over the Jets. (Getty) BOSTON – It might be a little early to start contemplating this year’s winner of the 7th Player Award, but through the first 22 games of the season, Chris Kelly has absolutely nailed the criteria of playing above and beyond expectations.

The Bruins center continued his sensational start to the season on Saturday at TD Garden, burying two goals – including the game-winner – to lead Boston to a 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.

The defensive-minded forward has been on an offensive assault in the early-going and now sits second on the team with nine goals, trailing only Tyler Seguin’s team-leading total of 12.

“I think obviously I'm more defensive-minded than offensive-minded,” said Kelly. “I think over the years, I don't like getting scored on and obviously when you get a goal it's a bonus but, just playing well in all three zones and when my feet are moving and I feel good. Tonight I felt good. First period we were kind of back and forth but the second period, obviously I felt well and the same in the third.”

Kelly has moved up and down the lineup since the start of the year but remained consistent throughout. Now, he’s developing some killer chemistry with linemates Benoit Pouliot and Rich Peverley.

“We're having a lot of fun right now,” said Kelly. “I think the three of us are getting more familiar with one another and it's a far cry from last year when Rich and I got to this team and things didn't go quite as we wanted it to early on.”

Kelly was underwhelming during the final 20-plus games of the season after arriving from Ottawa last year, but the veteran center came up huge in the postseason with five goals and eight assists for the Stanley Cup champs.

Many never expected Kelly to be able to maintain such a pace on a deep Bruins squad this season, but so far he’s somehow exceeded it. The humble forward, however, deflected all of the credit to his teammates.

“I just happened to be kind of right place, right time, especially that first one,” said Kelly, whose shorthanded tally tied things up at 2-2 in the second period. “You know, Rich, like I said, he's probably one of the best skaters in the league and he takes the puck to the net. Like, a lot of guys don't, but he just happened to be rewarded with that one and it was a great pass by ‘Benny’ on the second one.”

When asked about Kelly’s performance, coach Claude Julien said the pivot doesn’t always get the kind of credit he deserves.

“Kelly continues to have a real good year for us,” Julien said. “He’s one of those guys that flies under the radar most times. There are always bigger names that get mentioned ahead of him, but he’s probably one of our most consistent forwards this year and continues to impress on the stat sheet.

"And something that’s not necessarily thought of as pedigree, but at the same time he’s one of those guys that is contributing so well for us and that’s giving our team a lot more depth with scoring.”

Keep it up and Kelly promises to receive the recognition he’s due. And if the fans vote accordingly, a nod for the 7th Player Award just might be in the cards this spring.