Thursday night in Buffalo Jeff Halpern will play in his 900th NHL game. 900 NHL games over 13 seasons with five different teams. Two of them, the Canadiens and Capitals thought enough of the intangibles he brings that they brought him back for a second tour.
In 1994 and 1995 when Halpern was draft eligible, NHL teams selected 520 players. He was not one of them. He went to Princeton University, and after graduation signed as a free agent with his hometown Washington Capitals. Over 13 years he’s been a free agent five times signing contracts with Dallas, the Canadiens, Washington a second time and, last July the New York Rangers. Over the years Halpern has developed a reputation for being a hard working, checking forward with solid leadership qualities and first-rate faceoff ability. The Canadiens knew all about that first hand when they grabbed him off the waiver wire last month. Still, Halpern as always been a spare part, signed to one season free agent bargain basement contracts and then let go to pursue his next free agency. He’s with the Canadiens for the second time in three years and his presence instantly solved three glaring issues, penalty killing, faceoffs and a righthand shot at centre on the fourth line. Halpern will be 37 next month and no matter how many things he’s brought to the Canadiens table, he’ll probably be moving on again in July.
…..It’s clear Michel Therrien liked the look of the revised lineuphe put on the ice through the final ten minutes of Tuesday’s game against the Capitals. He’s decided to leave them together in Buffalo. That means Michael Ryder will move to his natural right wing position on a line with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk. That line scored the Canadiens goal late in the third period. Rene Bourque, who started on the fourth line with Halpern and Moen on Tuesday, goes back with Plekanec and Gionta where he started the season. Brandon Prust will now join Halpern and Moen on the fourth line. On defence, Davis Drewiske will be paired with Nathan Beaulieu will become the third pairing with Francis Bouillon moving up to play with Andrei Markov. Peter Budaj will be in goal in Buffalo.
And that leaves the Desharnais line intact. And if there is ever a line that needs a face lift it’s Desharnais/Pacioretty/Gallagher. Especially Pacioretty, even if only for a game or two to chance the scenery.
Pacioretty has 11 goals, but in fact he has failed to score a goal in 31 of the Canadiens 39 games, fourteen of the last 16. Tuesday against the Capitals he attempted 14 shots and came away without a point. He led both teams with five shots on goal and another six were blocked by the Capitals defense. It’s possible that Pacioretty is simply a streaky player and the Canadiens have to be content to wait out his periodic dry spells. But it’s also possible that Pacioretty is not getting the puck in the right places to be successful. Shots on goal have been a league statistic for 60 years now but in today’s hockey coaches pay more attention to ‘scoring chances’ and while Pacioretty has been piling up the shots, good scoring chances have been in short supply recently.
With two goals and seven points over his last 17 games, David Desharnais’ woes have mirrored Pacioretty’s. It could be a chicken/egg situation. Is it Desharnais’ playmaking or Pacioretty’s inability to put the puck in the net? At this point as the production drought goes on and on, it’s probably both. The logic of splitting them up is clear. The only thing holding Therrien back may be a reluctance to tinker with his other more successful lines.