Jeff Halpern’s sojourn around the NHL has taken him to six different teams, including two stints with the Washington Capitals. As a useful role player, it wasn’t surprising that he kept finding a home somewhere.
Even at 36 years old, Halpern managed to get a guaranteed contract, signing with the New York Rangers last summer. Unlike last season with the Caps, Halpern, at least so far, is a full-time player for coach John Tortorella and enjoying filling whatever roles are asked of him.
“I’ve been real happy,” Halpern said in a phone interview Saturday night. “It’s a great team, great organization, great coaching staff. It’s been a lot of fun. I think just playing in the NHL is a blast, but there’s a few organizations that I think are always special places to play and this is one of them, for sure.”
The Potomac native got to play seven seasons for the team he grew up rooting for, plus the Montreal Canadiens along the way. But the Rangers were the team willing to give him a one-year, $700,000 deal and a roster spot.
Halpern figured to kill penalties and take crucial faceoffs for the Rangers. Along with captain Ryan Callahan, he has been one of the top penalty-killing forwards, but Halpern hasn’t been used as heavily on faceoffs as expected.
After losing eight of his 10 draws in the season opener at the Boston Bruins, Halpern has recaptured some of the same form that led him to be fifth in the league last season at 58.3 percent.
“I struggled my first handful of games; my numbers weren’t the same as they were last year,” said Halpern, who has won 55.2 percent of faceoffs with New York. “I think it took some time to win some confidence back from everyone. I’ve settled in a little bit more now and felt more comfortable, and I think I’m starting to get used a little bit more in that role.”
The Rangers do have options for important faceoffs, like Brad Richards, Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan. But Halpern is used to being counted on there.
“It’s little things where I’m kind of playing wherever’s asked right now,” he said. “It’s one of those things where, when it’s called upon, I enjoy doing it and just kind of going with the flow.”
The flow of the Rangers’ season has been up and down, not unlike the Caps’, except New York was able to right itself quicker after a slow start. Before coughing up a two-goal lead to the Islanders and losing in a shootout Thursday, the Rangers won four of five games and started to look like the Stanley Cup contenders that most believed they would be.
“At times, especially the first maybe four games or so, we’ve put decent stretches together at times but weren’t consistent enough,” Halpern said. “I think over the last six, seven games we’ve played really good hockey. We’ve given up leads at the wrong times and kind of had moments of lapses. But I think our overall game has come around pretty good over the last bit.”
Halpern doesn’t have a point in 13 games, but the Rangers don’t need that out of him. Lately he’s been playing with Darroll Powe and Arron Asham and getting comfortable with stable linemates.
Going into Sunday’s game against the Caps, it’s hard for Halpern to get comfortable playing against friends.
“It’s a different feeling playing against guys you know and teammates,” he said. “You always try to play with a chip on your shoulder and certain mentality. Sometimes when you’re playing against guys that you know real well, I’d rather play against different teams where you have that animosity.
“That was a good group of guys that are pretty much still there from last year and I enjoyed playing with them. In one sense it’s good to play against them, but on the other I probably enjoy playing against guys I don’t know better.”