Everything roles Kelly's way

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

Opportunity knocked, and they were quick to answer.

Chris Kelly and Dean McAmmond have been especially strong in filling the middle of a Senators lineup that lost its top three centres in an unimaginable stretch over the holiday season.

First, Jason Spezza suffered a knee injury Dec. 21. Two games later, Mike Fisher went down with a similar malfunction. Two games after that, Antoine Vermette hurt a hip.

And all the Senators have done without the 41 goals of production, power-play and penalty-killing duties those three had been responsible for to that point is soared up the standings.

While other players and improved facets of Ottawa's game deserve credit, the Senators wouldn't be where they are now (fifth in the conference, three points behind fourth-place Montreal) without Kelly and McAmmond and the minutes they've gobbled up.

Before Kelly became the first-line centre of a team for the first time he can remember, he was playing right wing on the top unit with Spezza and Dany Heatley. But remember, he also was the team's fourth-line centre when the season began.

"And the year before, it was the ... I don't know .... the hope-to-be-the-fourth-line-centre?" said Kelly, a guy who will never need to be fitted for a bigger hat. "It's nice for the time being. Hopefully, I can just keep playing when the other guys get back."

Where he lines up, he does not care.

Centre or wing? What do you prefer, Chris?

"I don't mind either," said the modern day Shaun Van Allen. "At centre you have to handle the puck a little more, play down low in the defensive zone a little more. But either or.

"I do draw the line at defence or goalie."

McAmmond, who played his first NHL game in the 1991-92 season as a Chicago Blackhawk, suffered what would seem to be the ultimate indignity Dec. 16 in Buffalo.

Neither he nor fourth linemates Denis Hamel and Brian McGrattan moved off the bench all night in what would become a 3-1 win over the Sabres.

The none-so-shining moment was a first for McAmmond.

"I get more disappointed in myself than anything else," McAmmond, who has been averaging about 17 minutes a game since the injuries hit, said when asked of that evening in Buffalo. "Because I think if I had been playing really well before that, the coach wouldn't be as worried to put me out there.

"I was not playing well."

And now he is, most recently on an effective line between Christoph Schubert and Patrick Eaves.

Along with various other contributions, McAmmond has chipped in with four points in the last five games.

"You've got to play," he said when asked about his improvement. "The hardest job is to just play five minutes ... or playing on the fourth line when you're sitting for a while. You get stiff as a board. Then there's the mental part, where you're just trying to play smart and you don't want to make a mistake.

"I think I'm playing better. Seeing more ice gives you more confidence."

BEST OF THE BEST: Heatley was yesterday named one of the NHL's Three Stars of the Week ending Jan. 7. Heatley was recognized as the second star, for leading all shooters with eight points (five goals, three assists) that included a hat trick and two-goal game. G Roberto Luongo was the first star, for backstopping the Canucks to four victories (including two in shootouts) and posting a 1.92 GAA and .940 save percentage. Sharks C Joe Thornton was named the third star.

THIS AND THAT: Vermette skated before his teammates practised yesterday but not with them. "He's not playing (tonight) at this point," said coach Bryan Murray. "It appears he's not 100%." ... Despite the unique presence he gives the Senators on the forecheck, hard-charging big man Schubert will again be a blueliner one day. "I really like what he brings up front," said Murray. "But he can still hit people on defence, too. A guy like that is nice to have."


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