Boston fans were upset to see Bruins forward Chris Kelly break his left femur on Tuesday night’s match-up against the Stars due to a non-contact injury. Kelly, who has tallied a pair of goals in Boston’s first eleven games, is expected to miss 6-8 months as a result of the injury, and will have surgery on Wednesday.
Kelly, while not being a point-magnet, is an extremely versatile player for the Bruins. As Bruins head coach Claude Julien stated, Kelly is Boston’s “swiss army knife.” Not only that, but Kelly also serves as one of Boston’s noted leaders, both on and off the ice.
While Kelly may not be a player who sticks out every night, Julien is convinced that you’ll notice his absence:
“Well, you hope we can somehow compensate for his loss, but I think people are going to realize how important he is to our hockey club, not just on the ice but also in the dressing room and around the team,” said Julien, per nhl.com. “He’s a guy that is extremely respected by his teammates, and on the ice he’s given us everything we’ve asked for.
“He’s been moved around in all different positions, never says a word, but just thrives on the opportunity to play in those spots that we’ve put him. He was a very versatile player that we really counted on. No doubt he’ll be missed.”
Kelly’s teammate Brad Marchand also commented on the matter following Tuesday’s loss, stating both the on and off-ice worth that Chris Kelly possesses.
“That’s really tough,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “He’s such a big part of our team. He’s a huge leader in the room and on the ice and he’s been playing very well this year. It’s really tough any time you see a friend and a teammate go out with an injury like that. It’s really tough to swallow [and] it’s a big void to fill.”
Kelly’s “swiss army knife” role will be tough to fill. The veteran forward serves as an extremely versatile piece for Julien, who is comfortable putting Kelly pretty much anywhere. Plus, his leadership role will certainly be missed in the Bruins dressing room.
What’s to Be Done on the Ice?
As unfortunate as it is, Kelly’s injury does open up some room for some younger players who are looking to make a mark in the NHL. The most obvious name that comes to mind is Alexander Khokhlachev.
Koko was recalled from Providence for Tuesday’s game against Dallas, serving as short-term replacement for the injured David Pastrnak. Khokhlachev led the AHL in points (13) in the ten games prior to being called up.
As you may remember, Khokhlachev drew some attention back in September, when he voiced his frustration for not being given an adequate chance to prove his worth at an NHL level. (See: Bruins Need to Make a Decision on Alexander Khokhlachev)
Khokhlachev dressed against the Stars on Tuesday, and recorded a shot in 14:02 of ice time in Boston’s 5-3 loss. What may have originally been a short-term call-up may now have much longer implications, as Khokhlachev will likely be given a larger chance to prove himself in the absence of Chris Kelly, another center.
Khokhlachev undoubtedly has the offensive ability to replace, and even succeed Chris Kelly in his absence. However, his defensive skills have been widely criticized, and that is a huge part of Kelly’s game that will be missing, especially if Khokhlachev fills the role.
With more ice-time, Bruins management will have more time to judge Khokhlachev at an NHL level, and will be able to make some important decisions regarding the young Russian’s future with Kelly out of the lineup.
But Khokhlachev isn’t the only prospect looking to make a splash during this season-long opening. The Bruins could certainly look toward other young players to fill the gap left by Kelly, especially if Khokhlachev can’t handle his defensive requirements. They could even turn to an experienced Max Talbot, who was sent to Providence earlier this fall.
More Penalty Killing Issues?
Boston’s penalty kill has not been especially reliable this season, as was evident on Tuesday night, when they gave up three powerplay goals to the Dallas Stars. In fact, Boston has allowed a powerplay goal in every game this season – except two.
Chris Kelly’s injury will only worsen the problem.
“Yeah it’s tough,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand, according to CBS Boston. “And I think that’s an area where he’s really going to be missed. He’s a really good penalty killer, he has one of the best sticks in the League. When you lose a guy like that on the PK, it’s tough to fill that void and it just puts more pressure on the rest of us, so it will be tough losing him.”
The Bruins sit tied for 26th in the league in penalty killing percentage, at a mere 75%. This is a pretty alarming number for a Claude Julien team – one that took tremendous pride in its penalty-killing abilities in the not-so-distant past.
Losing key penalty-killers such as Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell over the summer has had a negative effect on the team’s penalty killing abilities, and the loss of one of its strongest pillars will only make things worse on the disadvantage.
“We work on it a lot and a lot of video and stuff,” said Marchand. “We just don’t seem to be cutting those lanes the way we used to and we haven’t had as good of sticks. I think we really got to focus on getting the puck down when we have the opportunity. We haven’t necessarily done that. We’ve been playing against some pretty good power plays. It’s enough to win and lose games when the PK doesn’t step up, so we’ve got to do a much better job.”
Kelly will likely miss the remainder of the season, and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer – meaning that the veteran may have played his last game in a Bruins uniform.