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Welcome back, Jeff Halpern. After almost seven months since sustaining a major knee injury during the World Championships this past summer, Halpern will return to the lineup tonight. Anyone who saw what Halpern brought to the team at the end of last season knows how important his return could be. He’s an asset in all situations and is a proven leader who will provide a huge spark.
Halpern’s return means there is an extra healthy forward for tonight even after Zenon Konopka was reassigned this morning, but Coach Rick Tocchet wouldn’t reveal who will sit. The team will likely skate an extra forward during warm-ups in case center Jussi Jokinen, who has missed a couple of practices, isn’t ready to go. Olaf Kolzig will sit this one out with an upper body issue, so KarrI Ramo will back up, fresh off last night’s 2-1 win for Norfolk against Albany. Ramo said he reached the airport in Norfolk at 4:30 this morning, but due to fog delays in Charlotte, didn’t make it to the rink until 12:30. David Koci and Gary Roberts also remain sidelined.
After three days of hard work on the ice Tocchet changed things up this morning by making the skate optional and encouraging players to rest. He held a 10:30 meeting after the 7-8 players who did take a light skate were finished.
Tocchet made it clear that he expects a strong performance tonight after Saturday’s letdown in Ottawa.
“That was probably the most disappointed I’ve been since I’ve taken over,” Tocchet said of the 2-0 loss. “These three days have helped me get my head back together because I was so disappointed.”
Tocchet added that he spent the three days having one-on-one discussions with the team’s leaders, including captain Vincent Lecavalier
, Mark Recchi, Martin St. Louis
, Ryan Malone
and Mike Smith.
“Now this game is on them,” Tocchet said. “Your leadership group has to show up.”