- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

Washington fell in love with Jeff Halpern during his first two years with the Capitals.

A gritty two-way center, Halpern produced 39 goals, 71 points and a sterling plus-34 defensive rating. Although Washington, as usual, came up short in the first round of the playoffs against Pittsburgh each spring, Halpern was its top scorer in both series. And the Potomac native was the Caps’ first homegrown star to boot.

That feel-good story took a turn for the worse on Jan.16, 2002 in Montreal when he got checked into the boards during his opening shift. Halpern’s left knee took the brunt of the impact. He gutted it out for the rest of the game, but he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament and his season was over with an unimpressive 19 points and a minus-9 rating. Not coincidentally, the Caps missed the playoffs for the first time in Halpern’s career.

Halpern rehabilitated his knee so successfully that he was one of only four Caps to skate in every game last season, but he had just 34 points with a plus-6 rating. The numbers were respectable, but not what either he or the organization hoped.



“Anyone who has had that kind of surgery will tell you it takes a year to get back to where you want to be,” Halpern said. “Last summer, I couldn’t work out the way I wanted because of tendinitis in the knee. I was able to play, but not at the level I wanted. I just didn’t have my old power to get the puck from one end of the ice to the other.”

That should change this season. The tendinitis is just a memory after pain-free summer workouts with trainers Steve Kozsterowski and Jimmy Fox. And at 27 and after four years in Washington, Halpern is fifth on the Caps in seniority, trailing only linemates Peter Bondra and Steve Konowalchuk, goalie Olie Kolzig and defensemen Brendan Witt and Sergei Gonchar.

“When I started to work out this summer, after a couple of drills all of a sudden I remembered I [was supposed to have] a bad knee,” Halpern said. “That was a great feeling.”

What’s more, coach Bruce Cassidy has tentatively replaced the tenacious Mike Grier with the high-scoring Bondra on Halpern’s right wing in hopes of reviving Halpern’s offensive skills and those of left wing Konowalchuk.

“I went through two ACLs myself, so I empathized with Jeff last year,” said Cassidy, whose once promising career was curtailed by bad knees. “You can see the difference now. He’s got a lot more jump, a lot more quickness. We love Jeff’s work ethic and his defense, but we need more out of him this year. We need more offense from his line. We don’t want Halpy and Kono to hide behind that ‘we’ve got to play against the other team’s best line’ thing. Playing with Peter should add an element that line was missing. He’ll bring some offense to their game and they can help Peter defensively.”

Konowalchuk defended Halpern’s play of last season, noting that he took the majority of the Caps’ defensive faceoffs, which hampers offensive production. However, Halpern typically didn’t use that as an excuse.

“I’m my own toughest critic,” Halpern said. “Sometimes it’s harder for me to see the glass half full and realize that our line did a lot of good things last year. No one can put more pressure on me than I put on myself. But I feel good now. You’ve got to be able to play on both ends of the ice. I loved playing with Ulf [Dahlen his right wing during his first two years] and with Mike, but Bonzai creates a lot of scoring chances.”

Notes — Tough guy Alex Henry outpointed Garret Stroshien in a bout early in the first of yesterday’s three scrimmages. The Caps will practice the next two days before holding a scrimmage Wednesday night.

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