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Bruins mull options; Kelly delayed

By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / February 17, 2011

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WILMINGTON — Looking around a crowded locker room after practice at Ristuccia Arena yesterday, Bruins coach Claude Julien said, “A coach doesn’t mind having extra players. It just creates that competition that gets players out of their comfort zone. That’s not a bad thing.’’

But some of Julien’s players struggle with the uncertainty, particularly as the Feb. 28 trade deadline inches closer and general manager Peter Chiarelli continues to say he’s trying to make deals.

Seven defensemen have their names on locker stalls, as do four full lines of forwards, with another one on the way from Ottawa. The newest Bruin, center Chris Kelly, who was acquired from the Senators Tuesday for a second-round pick in this year’s draft, was not at practice. Kelly, a Canadian, is having visa issues, according to Julien, and it is uncertain whether he can make it to Long Island for tonight’s game with the Islanders.

“He’s got to deal with some visa issues and I’ve got to deal with some team issues,’’ said Julien, who tries to prod his team out of a three-game slump as it begins a six-game road trip, juggle the seven defensemen into six slots, and figure out what forward combinations to try next.

With center Marc Savard lost for the season, the Bruins got the 30-year-old Kelly to give them more experience at center, but Julien said his lineup card had not been filled in yet.

“I’d like to see him play with us first,’’ said Julien, who had not had a chance to talk with Kelly as of mid-afternoon. “We feel he’s a good fit, otherwise he wouldn’t be here, but I want to see how well he fits. Sometimes you predict something for a player and he gives you more than expected and he’s a great surprise, and that’s what we’re hoping is going to happen.

“It’s definitely something that we feel is going to help our hockey club. He’s an experienced player, plays center, plays the wing, takes a lot of draws, has experience — playoff experience. I liked his grit and his compete level, so it’s certainly a great addition for our hockey club.’’

With Kelly still trapped on the other side of the border, it fell to Zdeno Chara, who played with Kelly in Ottawa, to describe his once and future teammate.

“It’s a great addition,’’ Chara said. “He’s a hard-working player, a smart player. He always plays his role well and gives us more depth in the middle.’’

Chara added that Kelly was a teammate to rely on.

“He’s a very smart player,’’ said Chara. “He’s always thinking on the ice before he does anything. That makes a big difference in crucial situations in a game. To have that poise and patience on the ice is always huge.’’

Kelly won’t be able to improve the defense, which has been springing leaks lately.

Johnny Boychuk spent Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs in the press box, watching and learning, and Steve Kampfer had his turn as a healthy scratch in Detroit Sunday. Mark Stuart was a healthy scratch for eight games before returning for the last two. Julien said he has not decided which defender will sit out tonight.

“The way we’ve played lately,’’ said Julien, “we could sit more than one, right?’’

In losing three straight, the Bruins have given up 14 goals, though they are still fourth in the league in goals against with a 2.35 average.

“We’ve had a few breakdowns, a few uncharacteristic mistakes, a couple of weak goals,’’ said Chara. “It’s just not going exactly the way we want it to.

“It’s something we have to work on as a unit of five, it’s not just defense. If there’s a time to go on offense, we have to support it and play as a five-man unit, and if it’s time to play defense, we have to play defense the same way.’’

Boychuk was disappointed to be scratched.

“I never really [thought] that I was going to be sitting,’’ Boychuk said, “but that was their choice and I’ve got to respect that. I’ve been maybe rushing my plays a little a bit and not making the right plays at the right time so I respect their decision.’’

It’s a decision Julien has to make one game at a time.

Patrice Bergeron did not skate with the team, taking what Julien called “a light maintenance day.’’ The emphasis in practice was on competition drills. “We need to up our intensity, and our battles,’’ Julien said. “I know we’ve made a lot of mistakes; a lot of those are more mental than about understanding our game. I think it’s about getting our compete level up that we feel has slipped lately. Sometimes a little jolt will help you down the road, so that was our solution for today anyway.’’

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