It’s never easy for a player to jump back into the fray after sitting out for several weeks in a row, but that’s exactly what Jeff Halpern had to do in Game 6 when an apparent right leg injury sidelined Jay Beagle.
With Beagle questionable for Game 7 against the New York Rangers – he hasn’t skated in the past four days – the Capitals will likely turn to Halpern once more on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I thought he had good pop out there,” Coach Dale Hunter said of Halpern’s performance in Game 6, which was the veteran center’s first game since March 23 against Winnipeg. “He played very well and took big faceoffs. Your timing can be off, sitting for seven weeks, but he looked fine and did a good job for us. You need that, especially on the right side. It’s key.”
Halpern skated 10 minutes, 23 seconds and showed a little rust, which was to be expected. He won 7 of 13 faceoffs, finished as a minus-1 and had four penalty minutes after a double-minor for high-sticking.
“I thought he came in and did a great job,” said Mike Knuble, who along with Keith Aucoin skated on the fourth line with Halpern. “He just jumped right into the game and played like he didn’t miss a day. He’s a veteran guy, you know, it’s very difficult, but he got his chance and he did well with it. It’s got to be pretty satisfying for him, in that respect.”
Halpern’s greatest contribution to the Capitals came in the faceoff circle. Beagle took the bulk of the right-side draws throughout the postseason for Washington, as the team’s other faceoff leaders Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich are both left-handed. Halpern could step into that role easily.
Several times throughout Game 6, Hunter deployed Halpern for important draws, particularly on the penalty kill, only to have the 36-year-old head straight to the bench once the Capitals gained possession or cleared the puck out of the zone.
Halpern acknowledged that it’s tough to watch games rather than be an active part of them, but now that he has the opportunity to be back in the mix he wants to contribute as much as he can.
“The most difficult part is not being in the games. No matter what anyone says you don’t feel as part of the team,” Halpern said after Game 6 Wednesday night. “I think just mentally trying to keep that game intensity around, somehow, whether it was 3-on-3 games with the coaches or just trying to do something….Obviously there’s cycles because there’s a wide range of emotions. You hope you catch yourself on the upswing.”