Everyone loves Chris

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The claim has been made before, but it is one that GM Bryan Murray would probably rather not be reminded of again, what with the way the team wallet is thinning and all.

"Everyone wants to play with Chris Kelly," Senators coach John Paddock said yesterday morning, when asked about his reshuffled line combinations for last night's tilt with the Habs. "He's probably the most reliable player in situations, the most intelligent in reading situations. He's a good fit for everyone."

He's an especially good fit on a Senators team that can only hope to be able to afford him.

Kelly, who's eligible to test the unrestricted free-agent waters once more this summer, is earning $1.262 million. Last night, with the Senators trying to bounce back from a blanking by the Buds, he was placed on a line with The Extended Pair, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.

Kelly made an immediate impact working with two guys who will earn a combined $18 million next season.

The defensively responsible one was busting up ice when hooked on a partial breakaway on his very first shift. Patrick Eaves put the Senators on the board during the ensuing power play.

It was a lead Ottawa would not relinquish.

"I've played with (Heatley and Spezza) before," Kelly said. "They're extremely skilled players who have a knack for finding the back of the net. If I try and change my game, I'm not going to look good and they're not going to look good."

Paddock did some more line juggling as the game went on, and it was another Chris (Neil) who wound up with Heatley and Spezza long enough to score a goal and add an assist in the first two periods.

The Chris that started the game as their right winger would be reunited with them for most of the night, and on an early third-period shift he finished off a Spezza-Heatley scoring chance by swooping in for his fourth of the season and the Senators' fourth of the night.

Spezza, Heatley and the rest of the them hope he is back next season, too, for like Paddock says, everyone loves to play with Kelly.

Murray's task will be in finding a way to make it happen.

STARTS AND STOPS: Senators tough guy Brian McGrattan should be back in the lineup tomorrow, when the Senators are in Buffalo to face the Sabres, after Randy Robitaille left last night's game in the second period with a hand injury. Robitaille was hit with a shot inside the Ottawa blue line ... After taking his second consecutive penalty, Heatley waved his glove at ref Brad Watson and appeared to get a little bit of a scolding for it. Maybe all he needed was to get ticked at an official, because less than a minute after stepping out the box Heatley ended his goal-scoring drought at six games ... It's clear Paddock wasn't happy with the lack of activity in front of the opposition net when the Senators had been enjoying a man advantage, as he elevated Neil to the first power-play unit. Neil's goal and assist came on a couple of rare even-strength shifts he had on the big line ... "Old Man" Dean McAmmond is clearly faster than Habs goalie Cristobal Huet thought. McAmmond won a race to a loose puck in the corner during a Senators' first-period penalty kill, and Ottawa would have had another "shortie" to its credit if he could have just completed the pass to Kelly in front.

BETWEEN PERIODS: Habs agitator Steve Begin gives up about oh, 10 inches and 80 lbs. to Zdeno Chara, but that's not going to stop him from getting in the face of Boston's Big Zee however and whenever he can. In Saturday's 7-4 triumph over the Bruins, Begin (who averages 12:12 of ice time per game) goaded Chara (who averages 25:17) into going to the box with him on three coincidental minors. Nice trade off, if you can get it. "You've just got to finish you check and talk a bit," Begin, who tried to jump up and punch Chara in the face during a corner scrum but still couldn't reach, recalled yesterday. "He doesn't like that. We did a good job. We took him out of his game until he finally snapped." Chara took 25 minutes in penalties, including a fight with Guillaume Latendresse, the second-year winger who has only one other NHL bout to his credit. Latendresse was asked about the "receiving" he handled. "Now I can always say," he proclaimed with a smile, "that Chara dropped me." ... Even though he's not playing a whole heckuva lot, Ray Emery's body continues to take a beating. During yesterday's morning skate, he was in obvious pain after being dinged by a shot on the inside of the knee. Emery finished the practice and later shrugged off the incident.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM...: His No. 30 will never be retired, but ex-Habs tough guy Chris "Knuckles" Nilan is a superstar when it comes to storytelling. His small yet captivated audience at Hurleys Sunday night included a couple of Sun scribes who particularly found funny the yarn about him throwing a water bottle at a rookie Washington Capitals coach who called a timeout with four seconds left in a game vs. the Habs that the Caps were leading 5-3. The coach's name was Bryan Murray ... A night after 52 shots and seven goals against Boston, the freewheeling Habs were set to get in another shootout. The game was just 12 minutes old when the Habs and Senators had combined for 25 shots. Things tightened up when it became clear they were facing an opponent with more firepower than the B's.


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