Chris Neil Returns and Will Play Tonight


The glory. The legend. The mystique.

In case you haven’t heard, the Chris Neil Penalty FaceTM and his raise the roof but only in front of the home crowd as not to show up his opponent post-fight celebration are both returning to an arena/television near you so check your local listings.

Yes, Chris Neil is back. For the first time since November 9th, the pugilistic forward will suit up and play against the Washington Capitals tonight and the timing couldn’t be more meh.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have him back in the lineup. He’s effective at what he does – blending a modest offensive game with that steady dose of grit, sandpaper, lunchpail attitude,  school of hard knocks, “he’s good in the room”, ham-fisted, blue-collar feistiness that resonates so well with Senators fans.

So why meh?

In the nine games that he’s been out of the lineup, the Senators have gone 5-3-1. Erik Condra, the man who has replaced Neil on the line with Zack Smith and Kaspars Daugavins, has serviceably replaced Neil’s minutes. In fact, this trio have gone on to become one of Ottawa’s better and most consistent lines.

Here’s the third line’s production during Neil’s absence:

  • Daugavins: 2 goals, 5 points, +3, 14 hits, 10 shots (note: subtract Kaspars’ -3 rating from that November 11th game against Buffalo and he’s +6 in his last 8 games)
  • Condra: 2 goals, 5 points, +5, 17 shots
  • Smith: 4 goals, 6 points, +3, 19 hits, 15 shots

Much has been made of the delicate balance for whether Nikita Filatov has to ‘earn’ top six ice-time or be put in an extended position to succeed, however, MacLean’s been pretty damn consistent with the manner in which he’s managed his player personnel.

Rather than break up the Daugavins-Smith-Condra line, MacLean’s making a veteran like Neil earn his ice by breaking him in slowly on the fourth line.

Other Things of Pithy Importance

 – No news on who exactly is coming out of the lineup but Don Brennan writes that the team didn’t skate Saturday morning, but judging by Friday’s practice Bobby Butler will come out of the lineup and Neil will work on a line with Jesse Winchester and Zenon Konopka.

MacLean could decide to sit Konopka if he feels the Senators need more offence, as Butler is more of a natural scorer. But Konopka has been the bigger contributor of the two in recent games.

Aside from faceoff wins and two minor penalties, the difference between the two players in the last two games has been negligible. Brennan’s right in asserting that there’s a difference in the manner in which these two players play but given Butler’s recent run of success on Ottawa’s fourth line — 2 goals, 4 points, 11 shots and a plus/minus of +5 — I’d be inclined to keep him in the lineup over someone like Konopka whose minutes and skillset can be more easily replaced by Chris Neil. 

– The latest scuttlebutt out of Montreal is that Andrei Markov will be undergoing another surgical procedure on his knee. Per ESPN, general manager Pierre Gauthier announced to reporters Saturday that the star defenseman will need athroscopic surgery on his knee after further tests this week revealed swelling in the surgically-repaired knee.

Gauthier believes that Markov could return in as few as three weeks because if history has taught us anything, Markov’s a quick healer…

Assuming that he won’t be returning to the lineup anytime soon, Montreal could prove to be an optimum destination for one of Ottawa’s excess of defencemen. Or at the very least, perhaps they’re an organization that could be used as leverage to get a better trade package from another team seeking a defenceman.

– Apparently Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien was unhappy with the manner in which Cory Clouston inexplicably dropped trou on Chris Kelly late last season.

According to Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty, Julien stated, “I still remember a comment that was made by his former coach last year,” said Julien referring to Clouston. “He said that when [Kelly] was traded he wasn’t doing much there either. It was a cheap shot I thought at Kells as a guy coming in and giving him a chance to get used to his teammates.

“We’ve seen what he’s capable of doing and he can be a really good player. I think most of his teammates in Ottawa knew that. I think it was obvious they missed him and I think they still do. He’s a pretty good player and a good leader.”

In fairness to Clouston, Kelly wasn’t doing anything in Boston and he was in the middle of a public campaign to save his NHL coaching career. As easy as it is to shit on the former coach and this oversight that makes it sound like he didn’t think much of a former player, he did have some pretty complimentary things to say about Kelly when he was dealt. Besides, communication (or suit and tie selection) was never his forte.

Chris Kelly is a good player and a good leader, but Julien’s right when he says we know what he’s capable of doing. That 39.1 goal and 69.5 point pace that he’s on is… well let me just say that there is a greater chance of Nikita Filatov putting an end to his habit of answering every young girl’s Formspring question than there is of Kelly sustaining those levels of production.

It’s interesting that Julien even remembers that Clouston quote so well because everyone is going remember Chris Kelly’s 2011-12 season well. Bruins fans will be damning  and Senators fans will be laughing about it in three seasons when everyone talks about how untradeable and expensive his contract is.

So when Kelly, who is headed towards unrestricted free agency on July 1st, signs some ridiculously expensive extension.