MONTREAL -- Chris Kelly is one of those players whose worth cannot be fully evaluated by his numbers.
Now the Senators will find out what life is like without the 27-year-old utility centre starting tonight here against the Canadiens.
Kelly will be out at least three weeks with a hairline fracture of his left leg after blocking a shot in the Senators' 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night.
"Obviously, a big loss. He's one of the more reliable players on our team," said Senators GM/coach Bryan Murray. "Not only in the penalty killing, but you can play him on a checking line, you can put him in other situations where he's a responsible player on a line. Like a lot of teams, you hate to lose good players and certainly he's a good player for us."
Kelly is on the club's first penalty-killing unit and is one of the players Murray can put on the ice to defend a lead late in a game or a period (if the Senators could figure out how to get themselves in that position a little more often).
Kelly has been centring a line with Antoine Vermette and Martin Lapointe. It has been the Senators' most consistent unit lately, chipping in a goal in four of the last six games.
Kelly has 11 goals and 19 assists, hitting the 30-point plateau for the third straight season, and is plus-3.
"He's not one of the most productive players on our team," said Murray, "but he's one of the most useful players on our team."
Kelly is optimistic he'll return for the playoffs.
Getting hurt while blocking a shot was "part of a hockey play and it's unfortunate to happen. It could be a lot worse. Hopefully, it's not too long," said Kelly of his absence.
"It could (have happened a) week later, which would mean missing the playoffs. It's tough to happen so late in the season, but hopefully I'll be fine and back for the playoffs."
Kelly's injury means forward Randy Robitaille, a healthy scratch for the third time this season against the Leafs, could get back into the lineup. Rookie Cody Bass has also been cleared to play after missing 25 games following surgery for an extreme case of lace bite.
Both could play tonight if Dean McAmmond, who was limping around after being slashed by Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala, cannot go.
"I'm going to try," said McAmmond, who got caught between the top of this shin pad and the bottom of his pants by Toskala's stick.
The Senators enter tonight's game trailing the first-place Canadiens by five points in the Northeast Division, but with a game in hand. They teams have another game after tonight's, so the Senators still have control -- barely.
MUST WIN TONIGHT
"If we want to have a chance to win (the division), we have to win (tonight), there's no question, there's no way around it," said captain Daniel Alfredsson, whose club is 5-1 against the Habs this season.
"It would have been nice to be closer to Montreal and have first in our division more in our own hands. Hopefully, we can win (tonight) and put ourselves in a better position in the next week. Knowing them, they're going to be ready. They haven't done well against us this year."
Goalie Martin Gerber will start his 11th straight game for the Senators, a career high. Rookie Carey Price is expected to start for the Habs.