Bruins

Kelly to play pivotal role with Bergeron out

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Kelly to play pivotal role with Bergeron out

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Heading into this weekends start to the Eastern Conference Finals, its not much of an overstatement to say Chris Kelly might be the most important player on the Bruins' roster.

It would haveseemed funny to say when Kelly managed only 5 points in 24 regular seasongames for the Bruins after general manager Peter Chiarelli acquired him from Ottawa for a second-round pick. His lackluster start had people viewing the gritty, two-way center as nothing more than wallpaper on a good hockey team.

But Kelly moved into this seasons playoffs with more than 40 games of postseason experience on his resume as a member of the OttawaSenators and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance already on his resume. Those big-game instincts, and the playoff poise that nearly alwayscomes with them, will be needed as he attempts to authorhis best poor mans Patrice Bergeron impersonation against the Lightning.

Kelly has come a long way from the center who earned amuch-discussed16:47 of ice time in Game 1 against the Canadiens. After that game, he caught the ire of Bs fans everywhere for getting more time on the sheet than the man hes now replacing in Bergeron (15:47).But that was before he exploded offensively against the Habs after getting thrown head first into the post by Scott Gomez in Game Three.

Chiarelli threw out the "P.J. Axelsson" parallel for Kelly at the conclusion of the Montreal series in terms of hockey intelligence and competence in all three zones on the ice, and the seven points in 11 postseason gameswas vitalfor Boston.

Nobody is expecting the Bs offense to continue running with the same efficiency when Bergeron out, but Kelly's put up impressive offensive numbers during the playoffs. As Lloyd Christmas might say in "Dumb and Dumber" about another potential offensive outburst against Tampa Bay, "so you're saying there's a chance."

I think Kelly obviously is -- what he produced offensively, point-wise and goals and all that stuff -- he has certainly been refreshing for us, said coach Claude Julien. We know he was a good, solid two-way player, we maybe didnt expect as much offensively as weve seen so far. So thats been great.

True, Tyler Seguin will get his playoffshot now that Bergeron is sidelined with a mild concussion. But its Kelly who will slide into Bergeron's center spot between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi and help take controls of a vital forward group. Bergeron, Marchand and Recchi had been rolling for the Black and Gold. They combined for an obscenely good plus-25 in the first 11 games against the Canadiens and the Flyers, and they were a dual threat. Not only were Bergeron and Marchand exploding against other teams' second and third defense pairings, but the trio was locking down other teams' best offensive players in true checking-line fashion.

Marchand and Recchi are great players, said Kelly. Whatever needs to be done or wherever Claude wants to be me, I think there are plenty of guys that are capable of playing with them. If I do end up playing with them then itll be a fun experience. Well see what happens and go forward from there.

Obviously you cant replace Bergie. He does every little thing that maybe goes unnoticed by a lot of people, but it doesnt go unnoticed by us. He does all of the big things that get noticed as well. Hes irreplaceable and hopefully hes good to go against the Lightning.

Kelly will slide right into the defensive responsibilities and faceoff duties Bergeron hasskillfully mastered, and the former Senators center pointed to his experience in Ottawa as the prime reason hed have little trouble moving up the lines. Let's just say he made his bones with a lot of different players during his time in Ottawa.

Wherever the coach needed me to play on any line, any position and any situation, it was a challenge that Ive always been ready to take on," said Kelly.

Going from Peverley and Ryder to Recchi and Marchand might be a little easier than in Ottawa going from Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu to playing with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza. Its a big difference. Not in a bad way, but they are just very different players. I think itll be a much easier transition than some of the ones Ive made in the past.

Kelly has also been a guy who's taken on a little of the missing Axelsson leadership role within the Bs dressing room.It clearly took some time in the feeling out process to get comfortable blending his leadership voice with the establishment in the room, but Kelly chimes in now when something needs to be said along with the rest of the veteran B's chorus.

Ill do anything I can to help this team, said Kelly. Obviously coming into a dressing room thats as established as this team, you just want to come in and help. Nobody wants to come in and be the loud guy within a group of players that you dont know.

As I got more comfortable and the guys got more comfortable with me, if theres something that needs to be said then I dont mind being the guy to step up and say it. Ninety-nine percent of it is always positive, and everybody here really wants to step up and do the right thing to help the team.

Fold the leadership, faceoff and defensive components into the Kelly tool box and the Bruins are getting a facsimilie of Bergeron without the elite playmaking.

The question against the Lightning: Will Kelly be able to replicate the offense he provided around the net while scoring six points in seven games against the Canadiens, who play similarly to Tampa Bay?

Kellys ability to generate some offense could be the deciding factor in the series, and that means a guy with 35 total games in a Bruins uniform could be the biggest difference-maker in the biggest Bs playoff series in 19 years.

Who would have ever guessed that when Kelly, Peverley and Tomas Kaberle were dealt to the Bruins in February?

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

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Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would appear that Bruce Cassidy is ready to start shuffling the deck up front after a slow start to the season.

With the Bruins ranking among the league’s worst both offensively and defensively just a handful of games into the season, they are both introducing a few new forwards to the mix while hoping for full health to a couple of other ones. 

First off, the Bruins appear that they might get David Backes back for Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks after his bout with diverticulitis, supplying some badly needed size, strength and net-front tenacity on the wing. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) might not be too far behind after going through a full practice wearing a no-contact jersey. The return of No. 37 would help in any number of different areas once he’s good to go, and would have a cascade effect on the rest of the forwards.  

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Getting both players back in short order would give the Bruins a toughness around the net that was certainly missing against Malcolm Subban and the Golden Knights, and hasn’t been there consistently this season with No. 37 and No. 42 out of commission.

“[Bergeron] is progressing. In the past we’ve ruled him out ahead of time, but we’re not ruling him out for [Thursday vs. the Canucks]. Backes looks closer to being ready to play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of the games that have gotten away from us, those guys are glue guys that really add that element to us to keep us on the rails without the game getting away. Some nights you just need their offense or some hard defending, and you miss their leadership obviously. They’re all good players, but most of them you know they’re bringing that North/South game and a few good shifts here or there could have got us back on track.

“[Bergeron] is underrated in his ability to get to the front of the net especially with Marchand and Pastrnak on his wings. So we miss that part of it: Getting there on time, making plays and finishing off plays. Backes is just a big body there and you certainly miss that part of it. With Vegas the other night that was one of the biggest things we were missing was getting second chances, shooting for second chances, hitting the net and getting those rebound chances against a team that was harder to get inside on.

A few moves on Wednesday might also suggest some on-the-fly changes with some forwards that haven’t been working out with the Black and Gold. Ryan Spooner suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday night against Vegas, and it sounds like it might not be a short-term injury for the center with just one point in his first five games. Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano also haven’t produced much in the first couple of weeks of the season, and could be in danger of losing roster spots to Providence call-ups Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik.  

Both players were late cuts from training camp and were showing the blend of size, strength, skill, experience and production that Boston needs more of as they search for answers among their forward group. Beleskey, Spooner and Vatrano have combined for one point, a minus-6 rating and just 12 shots on net in a combined 14 games this season, so clearly that is one of the first spots to look for upgrading the roster from within.

“[A tryout period] is a good way to put it. We talked about that in training camp when we had a long look at guys, but not Cehlarik because he didn’t get a chance to play [because of shoulder surgery]. He obviously piqued our interest last year and did a lot of good things for us,” said Cassidy, who has been in a state of constant flux putting forward lines together due to injury and ineffectiveness. “We just went in a different direction at the trade deadline, but we brought him up to give him a look. We have a decision tomorrow and I’m not going to say whether [Cehlarik] is in or out.

“He’s really played well in Providence, and we just thought he might be able to help us. Some of it may depend on the health of the other guys as far as who’s in and who’s out. If both Cehlarik and Agostino are both in the lineup there’s a chance [they might play together]. They were with [Riley] Nash today in the middle, and he has some of the same qualities as JFK down in Providence. But until we sort through who’s in for tomorrow, and that starts at the top with Bergeron and Backes, then stuff will fall into place for all of them.”

Depending on how Don Sweeney plays with his 23-roster spots, perhaps the time has come to put one of those players on waivers for a trip to the AHL. Simply based on merit it would be Vatrano and the total nothingness he’s shown in his first four games this season, but there would also be a legitimate concern they’d lose the 23-year-old Massachusetts native on waivers for nothing.

For their part, players like Agostino and Cehlarik ripped up the AHL while teamed with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in Providence, and were just looking for their chance to carve out a role in Boston. Now they may get their chance based on others not really grasping their opportunity, and they’re ready if that’s the case.

“It’s encouraging for me, but I’m just taking things day-by-day. I’m not looking past anything and I’m looking in the past. I just take things as they come here,” said Agostino, who leads the Bruins two goals and seven points in three games thus far. “This isn’t my first time [up at the NHL], so I’m just going to do whatever I can to make the best impression possible.”

What if Agostino and Cehlarik, a career AHL player and a former third-round pick, can’t make the impact that the Bruins are looking for?

Hopefully by then the Bruins will at least have their top two lines healthy and firing on all cylinders, and can continue to mix and match things in the bottom six until they find a combination of forwards that work. But it may come to a point where the Bruins need to look outside the organization for an impact forward or two, or at least find somebody that can make an impact on the ice rather than will themselves invisible.

Only Beleskey has been at all effective this season as he’s dropped the gloves and played physical at times, and certainly can still be an effective third or fourth liner with the right players skating alongside him. For those reasons along with the massive contract money still owed him, Beleskey should be given every opportunity to succeed in Boston. But one thing is clear at this point: There is too much dead weight on the Bruins roster right now at the forward position, and something needs to be done about it if they hope to pull themselves out of their early-season funk.   

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Bruins lose Ryan Spooner for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear

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Bruins lose Ryan Spooner for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear

The Bruins have absorbed another substantial injury to their forward group with the news that Ryan Spooner will be out 4-6 weeks with a torn groin. According to sources, it was something he was playing with for some time before the right adductor muscle in his groin finally tore in Sunday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

With Spooner out of the Bruins lineup, there will be challenges to both team speed and to a power play unit that the fast-skating center was a key contributor over the last couple of seasons. Sean Kuraly was centering Tim Schaller and David Backes in Spooner’s absence during Wednesday practice, but it remains to be seen how they’ll go about filling the void for the next couple of months.

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“We’re no different than anybody else. We’d like to have our full complement [of players],” said Bruce Cassidy, when addressing the injury situation. “To be healthy and 100 percent in this league is tough, but we’d love to be there.”

Spooner was very clearly slowed by something at the start of the season with just one point and four shots on net in his first five games of the season along with a minus-2 rating, and that’s a tough development for a player like Spooner that relies on his speed and skating for much of his effectiveness at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see if Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson eventually gets a look given his fast start at the AHL Level, and the fact that Spooner is on a one-year deal that may see him playing somewhere other than Boston next season, or perhaps even following this spring’s trade deadline. 

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