Kelly finding feet with Sens

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Take a change in coaches, add a cup of regular linemates, toss in a big dash of confidence and you have the recipe for one of the best penalty-killers in the National Hockey League.

Former London Knights centre Chris Kelly, recently described as the defensive conscience of the Ottawa Senators, finally feels he has a home in the NHL.

"I thought the year went pretty well, but obviously I've got to prove myself each and every night. You can't get in that comfort zone because there are always people looking to come up and take jobs," Kelly said before last night's Game 3 in the Senators' Eastern Conference semifinal with the Buffalo Sabres.

Kelly, 25, who played with the Knights from 1997-98 until his trade to Sudbury during the 2000-2001 season, cracked the Senators' lineup after four years in the AHL.

He played played four NHL games in 2003-04, but was never a favourite of then-coach Jacques Martin. But Bryan Murray is now coaching and liked what he saw at training camp. Kelly stuck and played all 82 games.

It means tons to an athlete to have a coach show that kind of confidence.

"I can't say enough about our coaching staff," Kelly said. "They've given me a lot of responsibility. They've shown a lot of trust in me.

"It also helped having (Sens' assistant coach) John Paddock my coach the previous three years down in Binghamton and then him coming up this year. He was in my corner and that helped a lot."

Kelly started this postseason with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. He's now on the fourth line with Chris Neil and Vaclav Varada, but Murray rolls four lines, so there's lots of ice time. But the bulk of his work is on penalty-killing, which he shares with another centre, Antoine Vermette.

The Sens' penalty-killing unit was ranked fourth and scored a league-leading 25 short-handed goals. Vermette accounted for six, second in the league, while Kelly had six short-handed assists, tying with teammate Chris Phillips for the league lead.

"The guys I kill penalties with are unbelievable. It's been pretty easy for me."

Vermette said penalty-killing is all about positioning "and Kells is a good fit. He does the smart things, with and without the puck."

One thing Kelly has not done is score. He had 10 goals in the regular season and has none in the playoffs.

It's been the subject of some good-natured ribbing and he said that earlier in this series, one Ottawa reporter said "they were considering naming me after Kelly Funeral Homes, but they decided not to because they bury and I can't.

"That was creative."

Despite the joking, Kelly wants to contribute in the goal department.

In the meantime, he'll take satisfaction in knowing he's preventing goals -- and concentrating on staying away from injuries.

Three times in the playoffs he's been forced to leave a game, not to return. But to his credit he's answered the bell the next game, one time catching a flight out of Ottawa the morning of a game in Tampa.

Kelly maintains strong ties to London, training in the city in the summer. He met his girlfriend Krissy Broderick while attending Saunders; Broderick now teaches elementary school in Ottawa.

Kelly is six feet tall, but only 195 pounds, and he admitted his weight has always been an issue. Many figured when he left junior he'd never make the NHL, despite being a third-round draft pick.

He said quarter-pounders with cheese aren't the answer.

"The (junior) days of eating McDonald's before practice are over, just the way guys take care of themselves.

"I don't think I'll ever be that huge power forward some guys are. But I work hard in the summer and I try to get my weight up and I've got to work hard to maintain it during the year. I know what I can do and what I can't do out there."

The NHL now knows, too.


Videos

Photos