His name might not appear on the scoresheet as often as players like Mike Ribeiro
or Brenden Morrow
, but there’s no denying the impact and influence that Jeff Halpern has on the fortunes of the Dallas Stars.
As more of a defensive-minded forward who excels in all three zones, Halpern is usually relied upon to skate head-to-head against opponents’ best players, but still manages to to chip in offensively as well on occasion.
Recently teamed up with center Mike Modano and abrasive winger Steve Ott
on a forward line, Halpern has caught fire lately, contributing one goal and six points in his last five games, including back-to-back multiple-point efforts Dec. 26 and 29 against Minnesota and St. Louis, respectively.
With Dallas 8-4-0 in the last 12, Halpern has been happy to be one of several Stars delivering top-notch performances at the same time.
“I think the whole team’s doing well, I think we’re building in each end and it’s creating more scoring chances for everyone at the other end,” said Halpern, who surpassed 250 career points on Dec. 23. “For me, I’m getting a real good opportunity to play with Mike and getting some power play time now, too. I think in those situations, you kind of have to produce, and we’ve had some real good games. I’m having fun playing with him and Otter. Some games I think we’re doing everything right and I think we’re getting rewarded for it.”
His goal in the Stars’ 8-3 victory over the Wild Dec. 26 was his eighth of the season in his 38th game of the year, matching his total from all of 2006-07. It was also the eighth shorthanded goal of Halpern’s eight-year NHL career, which has included several stints representing the USA internationally.
Scoring short-handed helps demonstrate his ability to kill penalties, and his proficiency in that area has helped the Stars lead the entire NHL in that category. After going 4-for-5 on the PK Thursday against Minnesota, the Stars have now nullified the last 28 of the last 29 opposing power plays against them over the last eight games and Halpern is a big part of that unit’s success.
The 31-year-old former captain of the Washington Capitals, who signed with Dallas in July 2006 as a free agent, is also a key face-off man, winning a stellar 55 percent of his draws, a figure that leads the Stars and puts him among the league’s top 25.
“There’s a lot of things that happen, not on the offensive side, but there’s face-offs, there’s wall-work, there’s penalty killing - there’s a lot of things that come into play that Jeff Halpern does that determine a lot of what the outcome of a game is, not just scoring goals,” Stars coach Dave Tippett pointed out. “He’s a key guy for us in that role. He does a lot of dirty work that allows us to win hockey games.”
Although earlier in the season he wasn’t scoring as frequently, and even endured a 12-game pointless streak at one point, Halpern was still contributing to the club in other, more subtle ways, not the least of which is his chameleon-like ability to adapt to different roles, depending on who he’s skating with. Since Modano is an offensive player, Halpern has pulled those skills out of his toolkit since joining his line.
“He’s a pretty versatile player and he’s worked well with Mike when he’s been with Mike,” Tippett said. “He’s a hard-working player, he’s one of the key guys on our penalty kill and our penalty kill has been pretty good all year. He’s a strong character player for us that does a lot of things very well.”
When teamed up with Modano, who earlier this season become the NHL’s all-time leading scorer among American-born players, Halpern knows he is being counted on to produce more.
“The big thing is that Mike is a special player and he makes the guys around him better,” said Halpern, who hails from Potomac, Maryland and was the first player from the Washington DC metro area to reach the NHL. “He’s one of those guys that when he’s going, his wingers look great, the defensemen behind him look great and you try to feed off him as much as possible, and I think for me and Otter, we’re trying to do as much for him as possible to enable him to be that guy for us.”
Even though the recently-formed combination has put some points on the board, Tippett doesn’t view Halpern and his line’s focus as just to create offense.
“I don’t know if you put them in a more offensive role, I wouldn’t say that,” Tippett said. “They’ve been a good shut-down line for us. He’s jumped around from center to wing but he’s turned into a very versatile player for us, and he does a lot of things very well. He’s one of those guys that, he makes you win.”
It’s hard to argue with such a glowing assessment from his coach, especially when Halpern’s performance every night backs it up.