Chris Kelly: Slumping Third-Liner a Key Missing Piece in Boston Bruins Offense

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Chris Kelly: Slumping Third-Liner a Key Missing Piece in Boston Bruins Offense
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Cut the NHL season off at the halfway mark and third-line center Chris Kelly would all but be the runaway favorite for the Boston Bruins’ coveted Seventh Man Award.

The trouble in that scenario is if the team’s prize for exceeding expectations were doled out to Kelly right now, it would be on the heels of an anticlimactic, flavorless, unsatisfying coast to the finish.

In his first full season with the Bruins, Kelly has appeared in each of the first 41 games. Were he to suit up for the full breadth of the season and produce an exact duplicate of his first half, he would overwhelmingly eclipse his career high with 26 goals on the season.

Along with that, he would have his best playmaking campaign since his Ottawa Senators paved a road to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final with 20 assists. The resultant bushel of 46 points would best his previous high of 38 from that same 2006-07 season.

But given how he has trended through the first three-plus months of 2011-12, such data would now be a disappointment by Kelly’s newly revised standards. After all, throughout the Bruins’ collectively radiant month of November, he stoked a fiercely burning notion that he could function as a third-line pivot while piling up top-six-caliber numbers.

His pace tapered off in December, but Kelly’s partnership with fellow February 2011 import Rich Peverley still pointed to an enticing formula for production.

Not lately, though.

Since Kelly tallied a goal in his old place of employment in Ottawa on Dec. 14, he has cultivated three assists and one other strike in his last 11 outings. Peverley has doubled that output in the same time frame with eight points despite missing one of those games.

In the aftermath of the Bruins’ fall-from-ahead, 4-2 falter in Carolina on Saturday, Kelly has now gone four games without a point for the first time since the first four games on the schedule.

On opening night against Philadelphia, Columbus Day against Colorado and in another visit to the Hurricanes Oct. 12, Kelly totaled exactly zero shots on net. Similarly, he has stopped at exactly one stab at the opposing net per night in his last five games.

This is not exactly a new problem. Rather, it has just been exposed by a slight increase in frequency of Bruins losses.

Since Dec. 23, Kelly’s twig has been in constant hibernation with the exception of a Jan. 4 visit to New Jersey, when he issued four attempted shots and put two on net. Before that, he had gone three consecutive games with no successful stabs at the opposing netminder and two wide attempts, both of those coming in a Dec. 31 bout with Dallas.

On those nights when he has landed a puck on the goalie’s pads or farther, Kelly has required at least half the game to chalk it up on his transcript. Other than his latest stab against the Hurricanes, coming at 16:28 of the second period, each of his last four have occurred in the closing frame.

Kelly’s shooting drought was certainly a non-issue when the Bruins exiled longtime nemesis Jose Theodore en route to an 8-0 lashing of the Panthers. His only attempt in a Jan. 5 game against Calgary happened to go in at 2:06 of the middle frame as part of a 9-0 laugher.

Other than that, Boston could have spared itself overtime against the Coyotes with a couple of extra biscuits off at least one more individual blade. The same might have prevented the Bruins from slipping so irreparably in an unfavorable 4-2 decision against the Stars.

Overall, since Kelly’s one-goal, four-shot night in Ottawa, he has been confined to no more than one registered shot in seven of the last eight outings. The Bruins, owners of the NHL’s second-best winning percentage through 41 games at .695, are 4-3-0 for a .571 success rate in those seven.

When else have this year’s Bruins dropped three regulation decisions in such a short time frame? Back when they started the season at 1-3-0 with no goals, no assists and three shots on net coming from Kelly, to name one.

As it happens, Kelly went without a goal during Boston’s only three-game pointless streak at the tail end of October. His only two multi-shot efforts in a losing cause this season fell in that span during a forgettable home-and-home set with Montreal.

Since then, the Bruins have lost one other set of consecutive games, during which Kelly accumulated a single shot and a minus-one rating between a 2-1 sputter in Winnipeg and 2-0 concession to Florida.

Amidst Kelly’s ongoing, four-game drought, the Bruins are 2-2-0, having blown three one-goal leads in their two losses. All the while, Kelly’s only sources of pointless company, at least among fellow forwards, have been stand-in Zach Hamill and fourth-liners Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille.

Could Boston restore its winning habits and sense of self-fulfillment if its third-line pivot were to just rejoin the offensive droves?

At this rate, it couldn’t hurt.

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