Every player remembers his first NHL goal. It's the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice; it's something that can never be taken away. But for Washington Capitals rookie Jeff Halpern, that memory will always be a bit tainted by the circumstances surrounding it.
Halpern, a Potomac native, scored his first NHL goal in the third period of the Capitals' 7-1 loss to Anaheim at MCI Center. For Halpern, the accomplishment should be even more sweet -- few believed he would even play college hockey, much less ascend this far -- but he found it hard to smile after his team suffered such a bitter defeat.
"It's great to get the first one out of the way, I guess, but there's not much joy to take from that one," Halpern said. "I don't know if it was just one of those games. We have to take a look and see what we're doing wrong. [Scoring] was pretty anti-climatic."
Halpern was never drafted by an NHL team and the Capitals signed him as a free agent out of Princeton last spring. He earned his way onto the team as a fourth-line center with a terrific preseason and has been playing regularly and getting time on the penalty-killing units.
Halpern picked up his first NHL point on an assist in the Capitals' previous game -- a 3-2 loss to San Jose -- and found the net for the first time when rookie Miika Elomo fed him in the low slot with about 17 minutes remaining in the game and Washington trailing, 5-0. Halpern engaged in a modest celebration and was handed the puck, but that was about the extent of any jubilation.
The Capitals (2-3-1) have yet to score first in a game this season and dropped the last two games of this homestand. They head out for a four-game road trip Friday, one that will keep them out of town for 11 days.
"It's been a while since I've scored, and I was definitely happy at the time," Halpern said. "I was just kind of hoping we could get some momentum going into the road trip, but we let it slip again. I think the goal was nice, but wins are what counts right now, and we have to get back to winning. We're giving up the first 10 minutes of the game, and some nights you're lucky to get back in it. But we can't give away one or two goals right away. It's something we talked about all week."
The 24-year-old might not want to talk much about his goal now, but the day will come when he gushes over it. He will always have that goal. He will always have that puck.
News & Notes
The loss was Washington's worst at home since losing, 8-2, to Hartford in 1992. . . .
Forwards Ulf Dahlen, Jeff Toms and Mike Eagles were healthy scratches. Eagles is the only Capital yet to play a game.