MONTREAL – The Canadiens have a knack for finding heroes where you least expect them.
Brought in to bolster the Canadiens’ penalty kill and faceoff efficiencies, Halpern has returned to Montreal exactly as advertised. The defensive-forward has put his veteran experience on display in his first four games with the Habs, winning 32 of his 59 draws while logging heavy shorthanded minutes on a nightly basis on the team’s fourth line.
On Monday night, the 36-year-old pivot broke with typecast and instead decided to play the offensive hero against the Hurricanes.
“I didn’t know what to do – don’t read too much into that celebration,” joked Halpern of his skyward glance after scoring his first goal in 41 games. “It’s been a while. I just didn’t know where to look.”
Over 400 days after scoring his last goal in the NHL, Halpern picked a good time to snap out of his slump, potting the game-winner in the second period against Carolina.
“It’s almost embarrassing,” he admitted with a laugh. “It’s a frustrating thing; one game turns into two games and the weeks go by and the months go by. It feels good to contribute and it’s a great feeling to be part of this team right now. It’s obviously a team that’s used to winning and finds ways to win. We probably didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked to at times, but it’s fun to be a part of this group with this winning attitude.”
Still getting reacquainted with hearing his name over the loud speaker, after being named the night’s first star, Halpern realizes he’s got a few other items of celebratory protocol to go over on Tuesday morning.
“I didn’t even get the second [puck] over the glass – I’m clearly not used to that,” he cracked, after getting his first taste of tossing pucks into the crowd as the first star of the game. “Especially when I was breaking into the league, you always hear guys doing the French version of the ‘three stars’ call. This is a special place to play and just being on the ice wearing the Canadiens jersey is special.”
After spending the first half of the season battling to work his way into John Tortorella’s struggling lineup in New York, Halpern has taken full advantage of his new role with the surging Canadiens. Seeing his ice time skyrocket from 3:41 in his final game with the Rangers to 14:35 on Monday night – including 3:36 of shorthanded action alone – the secret behind the born-again Hab’s mid-season revival is simple.
“[Michel Therrien] is giving me a lot of good opportunities,” shared Halpern, who helped the Canadiens’ penalty kill limit the Hurricanes to two shots in 10 minutes with the man advantage. “[Travis Moen] is a guy I played with in the past and he’s just an easy player to play with. He gets in on pucks, he forces a lot of turnovers and with him and Army [Colby Armstrong], we’ve had some good cycles and we felt good about ourselves playing in the other team’s end. Playing with those two guys and on the back end having Marky [Andrei Markov] and pretty much the whole group pushing the pace makes it pretty easy.”
Some of the team’s big name stars still factored in on the scoresheet against the Hurricanes, but seeing an unsung hero like Halpern pot the game-winner was the perfect example of the team concept the Habs have been preaching all season long.
“It’s something we’ve talked about and something we’re going to rely on. It’s not going to be that [Tomas] Plekanec’s line is the best line every night,” explained Josh Gorges. “Not every night will Desharnais’ line be able to score three goals.
“We’re going to need different lines stepping up and tonight was just another example of that,” he added. “Their line played great for us and they’ve been playing great for us since Halpy got here. For him to go out and chip in is good for him. He’s a guy who’s going to block shots and win battles and he’s going to be a big player for us down the stretch.”Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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