Kelly adds some kick to his game

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Chris Kelly added a little spice to his cheese Tuesday night.

While killing a penalty less than three minutes into a crucial game against the Flyers, the Senators forward intercepted a Scott Hartnell pass in the defensive zone and raced the length of the ice on a breakaway. Fifteen or so feet from Martin Biron, he threw his right leg out behind him, then deked to his backhand before flipping the puck high over the goalie's catching mitt.

For a Senators team that has struggled out of the gate in recent outings, the goal was key.

For Kelly, a conservative, businessman-like player, the flashy move was rather uncharacteristic.

"It was quite the donkey kick," he said later, stifling a smile. "Have you ever been kicked by a donkey? The donkey kick is the hardest kick.

"I was just keeping the defencemen behind me."

And in the process, he helped keep the Devils and Penguins behind the Senators -- and Ottawa on pace with the Canadiens -- in what is suddenly a very interesting race for top spot in the East.

Obviously, Kelly had a lot of assistance. Ray Emery kicked aside 23 pucks, including some dandy saves with the third period winding down and in overtime. Jason Spezza, very much a donkey-kicker in the best of times, scored the deciding goal with a plain, old-fashioned good shot in the shootout. And Antoine Vermette put the Senators in position by netting one in regulation time and another in the shootout.

On the latter, Vermette tried to fake Biron out with, yes, a donkey kick, before rifling a shot past him on the stick side.

Talk about fancy footwork. Could be the Senators are dancing themselves back into form.

Just in case, keep the Feb. 19 meeting with the Flyers as a reference date. If this win turns out to be a pivotal point in their season, remember that it was Kelly and Vermette that donkey kick-started the Senators on the road to recovery.

And remember that it was a coaching move by John Paddock that got them going. Late last week, Paddock abandoned the plan to use Mike Fisher with the freshly acquired Cory Stillman.

He put Stillman with Kelly and Vermette and presto!

"It's funny how lines evolve, or get made up or whatever," said Paddock who, when asked to characterize the newly formed unit after the Flyers game, used the phrase "extreme hockey intelligence."

"I think they've been our best line the last two games, the only two games they've been together. I really didn't have any thought of going there. I was actually meeting with Kelly and Vermette last Thursday or Friday, just to discuss their play. The kind of player they've played best with was Patty Eaves, or that kind of player. And I'm sitting there, and all of a sudden I shake my head ... because we wanted a different combination, and we were sort of stuck on it, and it came to me that Patty Eaves is a pretty smart player, but he's not quite as smart as Cory Stillman and he's not quite as good as Cory Stillman. So, considering the way we were going, why not put him there?

"So we tried it and we've liked it, and we're certainly not going to change it at the moment."

Stillman, who has three assists in his four games with Ottawa, probably deserved that many against Philly alone, the way he was passing the puck. After a whirlwind period that included being traded and travelling and playing and travelling some more and getting acclimatized in his new surroundings, he's starting to show what he can do.

And Kelly and Vermette are the beneficiaries.

"They're good players and they've played together for two or three years," said Stillman. "I guess you could say I'm the new life on that line."

What makes this threesome work? Paddock says it's their "hockey sense" and they're commitment to cycling.

"They have the puck, they control it, they don't give it away easy," Paddock said. "They're all high percentage plays. There's no 'try and thread a pass through two sets of skates and over a stick to somebody standing wide open.' Those passes are made by Lemieux and Gretzky and a handful of other guys in the game. They work until somebody is free. They're keeping it simple, but keeping it simple means a lot of work. You have to move your feet all the time. You also have to have that little bit of communication. I think Cory is talking to them a lot and they're quickly developing a sense on the ice of where to be.

"(Hurricanes associate head coach) Kevin McCarthy told me a couple of years ago, when they won the Cup, how important this guy was, how he thinks the game. We've been emphasizing a lot as a team cycling, and so forth, and I think that fits into his game and their game. I wish the other lines would follow suit a little bit. Or I wish maybe he would talk to some of the other players on the team, besides Vermette and Kelly.

"They seem to be really in sync."

It's something to donkey kick about.


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