- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Saturday night the workers staged an uprising at Molson Centre, and the combined efforts of the Montreal Canadiens could do nothing to prevent this particular Washington Capitals trio from overwhelming the opposition.

It was bound to happen; the only question was when and against whom Jeff Halpern's third line would dominate a game to the point where it would all but single-handedly win the contest.

When it was done, Halpern had two goals and an assist, Steve Konowalchuk had a goal (the game-winner) and two assists and Ulf Dahlen had a goal and two assists. As a unit they were plus-5 defensively. It doesn't get much better than that for a bunch of muckers and grinders.

"We've been struggling to score a goal a game," Halpern said matter-of-factly. "If we score a goal and end up plus [defensively] for the game, it's a good night. Saturday night, that was a good night for all of us, but it's not going to happen every night."

Halpern and pals have been called on to shut down the line they are playing against. That means wearing it out by making it grind along the rear wall for possession of the puck, frustrating it and preventing it from accomplishing anything meaningful.

Has it worked? Dahlen's rebirth since coming back to the NHL after two years in Sweden is not only fruitful (12 goals, 36 points), he's having fun again. Konowalchuk has 18 goals and 33 points and currently projects to 25 and 46, respectively, both of which would be career highs.

Halpern is staging a comeback of sorts in just his second season. Toward the end of November he had three goals and 10 points and was minus-7 defensively. Thirty-four games later, he has 12 goals, has tied his career high with 29 points and is plus-6, a plus-13 turnaround.

"I just mentioned in passing one day a few months back that he had already been on the ice for as many goals as he was all last season," coach Ron Wilson said. "Since then he's only been on the ice for three or four more against, and that was 30 games ago. I think I struck a chord with him; most players don't want to be a liability at the wrong end."

After last season's playoff disaster, Halpern played for the United States in the world championships, took about a half-hour off upon his return and started preparing for this season. The Montgomery County, Md., native was worried that he would be affected by the sophomore jinx that has stopped others in their tracks.

And he started slowly.

"It was the little things not going right, and it starts to get to you," he said. "Instead of concentrating on the positives, you're dwelling on the negatives."

"He put a lot of pressure on himself because of the success he had last season," Dahlen said.

Said Wilson: "He may have concentrated too much on scoring, and in fairness to him, we might have expected him to be a 35-goal scorer, too, and let him feel that pressure."

Wilson soon realized he had a devastatingly effective third line at his command. All he had to do was turn it loose, and good things would happen.

"One of the best compliments you get is when you're on the road, get put out for a shift and the other team takes its best offensive line off the ice," Halpern said. "It happened a little bit in January when we were playing well together, especially against Eastern teams, where the matchups are more intense, focused. The biggest thing is we're wearing teams down. In a 60-minute game, it's tough to battle against those two guys down low all night."

"Jeff is a solid third-line center," Wilson said. "His goals come like Konowalchuk's, through hard work and determination. At the end of the year you look down and say, 'Hey, they scored quite a few goals, and none from further out than 15 feet.' That's quite a compliment."

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