Twenty-two games out of uniform was quite long enough for Chris Kelly.
The Bruins’ center was activated after being out with a broken leg and returned to the lineup Tuesday for a 6-2 win over Florida. Kelly started the game on the fourth line between Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. Kelly alternated between center and left wing for the first two periods.
Then in the third, Kelly centered the No. 3 line between Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Soderberg had started the game in the middle between Eriksson and Daniel Paille.
“I was put in a position all night to succeed and do well,” Kelly said. “Playing with Thorty and Soupy was great. I played a little center and a little wing with them. Then I played with Carl and Loui in the third back at center. It was a full night. But it was fun.”
Kelly had three shots in 15:22 of ice time. Kelly did not look out of place in his first game back since being injured by Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis on Dec. 7.
The Bruins survived the loss of their versatile pivot, but they welcomed his return for the many areas in which he touches the game, starting with experience. Save for the power play, the 33-year-old Kelly plays in all situations — perhaps most importantly, in the final minute when the Bruins are protecting a lead.
The Bruins were satisfied with the play of Ryan Spooner, Kelly’s replacement. Spooner recorded nine assists in his 20-game stint on the No. 3 line. His best asset was his speed, which backed up defensemen and opened opportunities for his linemates. Spooner also saw time on both power-play units, where he was stationed on the right-side half-boards.
But the Bruins assigned Spooner to Providence. He had been a healthy scratch in the 6-3 win Monday over the Islanders and was sick for Saturday’s 6-1 rout of Philadelphia.
The second-year pro is not ready to assume some of Kelly’s heavy lifting on the penalty kill and in the defensive zone. Kelly has won 48 percent of his faceoffs; Spooner was at 41 percent. Spooner’s faceoff play is a liability, especially on the road, when opposing coaches have the last change.
“We can look at his point production; at the same time, he’s got no goals,” said Julien. “So he’s got to learn to start taking more pucks to the net. Great playmaker, minus-1 player. We know that at times when he got stuck in our own end with his line, he was really struggling at helping out with the D.
“Parts of his game still need work. But to me, if he keeps going the way he has, there’s a good future for him here. Love his speed, love his creativity, and everything else. But when you play in the NHL, you need a little bit more than that. He’s going to work on that. There’s probably a good chance you’ll see him again here this year.”
The Bruins now have a second experienced left-shot draw man to complement Campbell. They also have one of their regular penalty killers. Kelly logged 1:19 on the penalty kill, most of any forward. Kelly will most likely see the bulk of his shorthanded shifts alongside Eriksson. The Bruins now have their three regular PK pairs together: Kelly and Eriksson, Campbell and Paille, and Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
During Kelly’s absence, David Krejci assumed more shorthanded responsibility. The Bruins prefer to roll out Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Jarome Iginla for the first shift following a successful kill.
Boyes on the move?
Brad Boyes leads Florida with 14 goals. He will be an unrestricted free agent at year’s end. The Panthers are 8 points outside of the final playoff spot.
For all those reasons, the ex-Bruin will draw attention on the trade market prior to the March 5 deadline.
Boyes, who has been riding with Sean Bergenheim and Scott Gomez, is with his sixth NHL organization. Boyes’s experience and offensive touch would be an asset for a playoff team searching for offense on the right side. Two of Boyes’s goals have been on the power play. In the second period, Boyes finished off and odd-man rush by burying Nick Bjugstad’s cross-ice feed.
The Panthers invited Boyes to camp and they signed him to a one-year, $1 million deal on Sept. 28. He had been a healthy scratch for the Panthers’ last visit to Boston on Nov. 7. The next day, the Panthers fired coach Kevin Dineen.
Trotman back down
Zach Trotman was also assigned to Providence; he played in one game during his recall. Trotman played 13:19 against Los Angeles Jan. 20 and was a healthy scratch the last two games because Dougie Hamilton was cleared to play. Trotman will draw interest on the trade front as he projects to be a top-four defenseman who could man the point on the power play. Trotman was assigned despite Adam McQuaid (leg) not being ready to play. McQuaid missed his fourth straight game . . . Julien has been pleased with Soderberg’s play at center. “He’s done a good job down low,’’ he said. “Big body. He just kind of battles. He’s heavy.’’ . . . Jordan Caron was the healthy scratch. . . . Eriksson led all players with five shots on goal.