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Pop Quiz! Which player on the Montreal Canadiens has a better faceoff percentage than Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk? Which current Habs forward has as many blocked shots as Mike Richards? Which Canadiens' player has a better shooting percentage than Stamkos and Ovechkin?
If your first guess was Jeff Halpern, well done! Halpern's play this season has been somewhat of a revelation for Habs fans. For a paltry $600 000, Pierre Gauthier has managed to bring in a player who has already impacted this team in a number of important areas. Halpern is currently on pace to surpass his previous high of 19 goals, set back in the 2003/04 season. His sublime penalty killing abilities have not only helped the team to the Number 1 PK in the league, but has allowed Tomas Plekanec to devote more of his time to putting points on the board (which has him on pace towards the highest single season point total of his career).
Perhaps less notable than his statistics however, are how well the seasoned American is at doing the little things. What stands out for me was what Halpern did in the final seconds of the November 5th game against Buffalo. The Habs were clinging to a 3-2 lead, late in the first period. Halpern was having a rare off night in the faceoff dot. With a draw to come in the Canadiens zone, Halpern did what was best for the team. He fell. Halpern threw himself on the puck, forgetting whatever techniques he learned throughout his career, opting instead to endure a few moments of pain (which must have felt longer) as Sabres players poked, jabbed and nearly tore the man apart as they wrestled to free the puck. It began to show, at this moment, that the Habs had found themselves a special player.
What also must be mentioned, is the impact the veteran forward is having on the enigma that is Benoit Pouliot. Surprisingly, and astonishingly to some, Pouliot has been playing with some definite fire in his belly this season. Pouliot, with Halpern at his side, currently sits 3rd on the team in hits, is a + 4, and is on pace for a respectable 20 goal season. Halpern seems to be succeeding where Scott Gomez has failed. Pouliot is developing an all-around game, calling for tenacious forechecking and throwing the puck on goal as often as possible. Unlike years past, Pouliot is making his presence known, even when he isn’t being productive offensively.
By providing leadership and courage, combined with a sound and responsible all-around game, Halpern is giving the Canadiens the dominant 3rd line center which can be noticed on just about every Stanley Cup winning team. Now if only he could get Number 11 going…