In Saturday’s bout with the Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins third-line center Chris Kelly logged at least two full minutes of ice time fewer than Nathan Horton, David Krejci or Milan Lucic. Yet he inserted two more goals than that starting troika combined.
Those two goals in question usurped the lead en route to a come-from-behind 4-2 victory. And they constituted Kelly’s second multi-goal effort in his last five outings and his sixth multi-point outing in 22 total appearances this season.
By night’s end, Kelly’s 16 points matched the total season output of Lucic and Brad Marchand. He had pole-vaulted both Lucic and Marchand for second in Boston’s goal department with nine on the year, trailing only Tyler Seguin for the club lead.
Meanwhile, with an assist on both strikes, Rich Peverley cracked double digits in the playmaking department. On the Bruins’ leaderboard, his 10 helpers trail only Seguin (11) and co-leaders Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara (12 apiece).
Kelly’s name was rightly called by TD Garden public address announcer Jim Martin moments after another post-game rendition of “Dirty Water” as he was named the night’s No. 1 star. That makes the second time he has garnered that honor in as many Saturdays, the other coming after a two-goal, three-point performance in a 6-0 annihilation of the New York Islanders.
Peverley’s decisive playmaking, meanwhile, was good for Saturday’s third-star accolade at the Garden.
Why, then, are these two never hearing their names in the moments prior to the national anthem? Why does that honor still go to Horton, Krejci and Lucic?
For the second day in a row, that hot-and-cold line started the game, then combined for a minuscule three shots on net while the Bruins as a whole pelted the opposing cage. In Friday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Detroit, all three constituents tested Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard once while the rest of the team thrust a cumulative 40.
On Saturday, Krejci was held shotless, with one attempt going wide and the other being blocked. Horton was credited with two registered stabs while Lucic took only one hack at Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec, who had to deal with a total of 36 biscuits from Boston.
Kelly single-handedly matched the first line’s shooting output. Granted, he crammed all three of his bids into a span of 8:58, but that was how long it took to transform a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the thick of the second period.
The Bruins, who initially authorized a two-goal deficit when the first period was barely half over, took the momentum and ran after Kelly polished off Peverley’s feeds. When they finished the 4-2 upshot, the two grinders each had a hand in the winning goal for the second time this week.
On Monday, it was Kelly and Peverley setting up unlikely offensive hero Andrew Ference to smuggle in the lone goal en route to a 1-0 triumph in Montreal. That along with Saturday’s plays has amounted to eight fruitful collaborations this season, including seven this month and five since Nov. 12.
As ludicrous as it may appear on the surface, especially in the midst of a month-old, 12-game unbeaten streak, it is worth head coach Claude Julien’s time to consider rewarding these two for their above-and-beyond efforts.
At the same time, and perhaps more urgently, something needs to be done to shake up the likes of Horton and Krejci in particular. Maybe the way to do that is at least a temporary break-up of their line.
Krejci has splashed a five-game production drought of late with an assist in two of the last three games. But both of those assists were on the power play.
That is doubtlessly a welcome development, but it is tough to ignore the fact that Krejci has now gone eight games without a point on even strength, which is when he is more commonly sandwiched by Horton and Lucic.
In addition, Krejci lost another point on what was already a team-worst in the plus/minus column. He is now a minus-four while Kelly is a plus-15, placing him second to Seguin (plus-19)—just like he is in the way of goals.
Furthermore, Kelly and Krejci have been going in opposite directions at the faceoff dot. Whereas Kelly was losing the majority of his draws in the young phases of the season while Krejci was winning them, those scenarios have since flip-flopped.
Krejci did claim seven out of 11 on Saturday, but has finished with a losing record on the draw in four of his last six games. Kelly has won half or more of his faceoffs in 10 of the last 11 games. Although, on Saturday, Peverley took the majority of the puck-drops for his line and won seven out of 10.
If even a momentary tweak is warranted in the near future, the way to go would be to swap out Krejci and Horton in favor of Kelly and Peverley joining Lucic on the nominal first line. At least that way, the chemistry between the two February 2011 imports is not breached and the Bruins still have a left-hand and right-hand shooting winger on each forward line.
Either that or maybe the only swaps in order are in the way of ice time, especially if Benoit Pouliot is starting to come around and need not be severed from Kelly’s left side. He along with Kelly and Peverley could all be elevated to top-six status while Horton, Krejci and Lucic are left to respond to a cutback together.