There was a desperate cry for offense in Ottawa’s locker room and one man heard it loud and clear. It wasn’t Alfie, Kovalev, Spezza or Fisher; it wasn’t the much-celebrated former Stanley Cup winner Gonchar; it was Chris Kelly, an overlooked third line centreman for the Senators who played like a first liner in Ottawa’s 3-1 win over the New York Rangers this afternoon. Netting all 3 goals for Ottawa with a shorthanded goal, a beauty off an awkward angle, and an empty netter while falling down near the blue line with only seconds left in the third to play, this was one memorable hat trick. And all of it against Henrik Lundqvist. Not bad.
All in all, today’s performance was a relief. Ottawa was aggressive from puck drop, charging through the zone and playing the game as if they actually cared about the outcome. They played so aggressively that Rangers coach Torterella was forced to call a time out a mere 5 minutes into the first period. But the Rangers didn’t seem to get their feet moving until the second period, where the two squads started to look more evenly matched.
Indeed, the two each notched a short handed goal, one for Kelly and one for Prust in that period. Both goalies made fantastic saves under a lot of pressure throughout the game and they kept this one close. Despite the solid goaltending matchup, this game did not go the way that most people would have predicted.
On the one hand, the stars did not shine on Broadway- none of the big names on either team were up on the scoreboard. On the other hand, the pest Avery actually played a clean game and didn’t make a scene, which almost makes you want to give him two minutes for good behavior. There were very few on ice antics or fisticuffs, although there were a few bad penalties for Ottawa, but the man advantage proved to be a non-factor as nobody capitalized on power plays. And Ottawa, playing back to back games with a loss on their backs and travelling in between, should have been the disadvantaged team going into today’s match up. Not so.
A frustrated Clouston stated that he had no idea what was wrong with the team or why they weren’t producing goals. He tried a change of tactic today by calling up Bobby Butler from Binghampton where he had a great November in the AHL offensively and by sitting out Peter Regin. He also reunited the Neil-Kelly-Ruutu line, which has in the past been Ottawa’s most effective, gritty line. And that was the move that paid off.
From the beginning of this poor season, this line has been one of the standout lines for Ottawa as far as I can tell, even though it’s largely ignored by the media and fans alike. It’s a gritty line that adapts to every opponent. People don’t expect a lot out of them and they thrive on the underdog role. Chris Kelly in particular has upped his game this season, showing off some smooth moves and quick reflexes that have often been overshadowed by household names. It is clearly his year to shine.
What separates this line from the others is the fact that they communicate, they get into the dirty areas, they don’t quit and they are not afraid to charge the net. There are no fancy plays- this is a meat and potatoes kind of line and they get stuff done. The only other player on the team who has shown that kind of grit and resolve is Jesse Winchester, who fights through every kind of pain that he comes across while out on the ice. They know how to play desperate hockey and they earn every second of their ice time.
The rest of the team may be high off their win, but they should all come crashing back down to earth as soon as possible and taking note. It would be too easy to write this off as a good luck game for Kelly. Make no mistake: he earned this. And everyone’s going to have to do the same.
About the Author
Written by Mika Oehling
Office worker and sports nerd. Cannot play a professional sport to save my life, but love to write. Prone to rants, raves, snarky humour and caustic commentary. My team's the Ottawa Senators. Author of Armchair Hockey, a work of humourous fiction released this year and available for sale online at Chapters and Amazon.