NASHVILLE, Tenn. | The Washington Capitals are going to miss forwards Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley in some ways. Gordon was a key penalty-killer and faceoff man, Bradley wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves and both worked hard on the fourth line.
But what they didn’t do a whole lot was score as they combined for seven goals last season. Enter Jeff Halpern, who is expected to center a fourth line that should pack an offensive punch along with the energy that’s expected.
“To have his knack for the net and the way he talks and the confidence that he carries knowing that, ‘Hey, we can score goals on the fourth line,’ ” wing Matt Hendricks said. “It doesn’t matter what line we play on or the minutes we get - if we get enough ice time and opportunity, we’re going to do it.”
That fourth line very well could consist of Hendricks, Halpern and the tenacious Jay Beagle. Hendricks and Halpern were given Wednesday night off while Beagle played in Nashville, but that trio seems to be a perfect fit going into the regular season.
“I’m happy to play with those guys,” Halpern said. “I think they both get in on pucks, they hold onto pucks - which is the best part of that - and have a scoring finish.”
The days of Halpern scoring 20-plus goals, as he did in 2000-01 and 2007-08, likely are over, but he still can fill up the stat sheet. And Hendricks has made it a goal to score at least 10 this season after just falling short last year.
Coach Bruce Boudreau thinks Hendricks can hit that mark because of his “work ethic alone.” That work ethic has been on display since the summer, when Hendricks spent extra time on the ice watching right wing Mike Knuble take extra shots and trying to mimic the veteran.
“I watch the way he works, how hard he works in practice,” Hendricks said. “He’s always in front of the net, and the extra shooting he does after practice - I try to emulate him as much as I can in all those shooting drills and goal-scoring drills.”
Teammates rave about Hendricks‘ natural shot. It’s better than anyone would expect for a fourth-line grinder who just a year ago Tuesday earned his first NHL one-way contract.
But Beagle doesn’t want to be left out of the scoring talk. He had 16 goals and 19 assists in 2009-10 with the Hershey Bears (AHL) and sees his role as bigger than just a player who tries to make room for his linemates.
“I want to score goals, too. When we’re all driving the net and working to score goals, it’s going to happen for us,” Beagle said. “I don’t think one guy needs to just motor around and not think about scoring. If that’s going to be our line, we want to be a power forward line that’s going to chip in and get goals and create offense.”
Other offseason moves, such as the acquisition of Troy Brouwer and the signing of Joel Ward, give the Caps even more scoring depth on the first three lines. Boudreau wants to spread his offensive-minded players around, and that can even extend to the fourth line.
“Their work [is] the one thing that we’ve had on that line in previous years was great work with Matt Bradley and whether it would be Hendricks or whomever,” the coach said. “I think we’ve continued that trend with these guys.”
Before anyone starts thinking the fourth-liners are too focused on offense and won’t be making life difficult for opposing players, Halpern is the steadying force. Beagle said the 35-year-old former Caps captain goes over strategies and ideas before the game and keeps his teammates on point.
And Halpern understands his and his teammates’ jobs.