At 44, forward aims to regain scoring touch, win another championship
NEWARK, N.J. — The milestones are prominent, but perhaps the most impressive number for Jaromir Jagr these days is the age at which he is thriving.
The fact that the 44-year-old Florida Panthers right wing still loves what he does as the elder statesman of the NHL isn’t what is most compelling. The lure is how well he is playing, and that’s thanks to his competitive verve and drive once he has the puck on his stick, his bullish mentality in the corners and his tireless determination to remain the best even when no one is watching when he stays on the ice long after practice.
Never discount those off days when he feels the work put in will at least level the playing field for a body that has withstood the rigors of 1,629 NHL regular-season games and 205 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“He’s a guy I idolized when I was younger and now I pick his brain on every little thing, like stick size, skate-sharpening, and corner battles,” 23-year-old Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said. “It’s kind of an art watching him in the corner, and it’s not ironic that he comes up with the puck most of the time. I’ve learned a lot of different stuff from him and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to play with him.”
Jagr is No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time goals list with 749 and its points list with 1,868, alongside names such as Gretzky, Messier and Howe.
In his first full season with the Panthers, he led them with 66 points in 79 games. His 27 goals were his most in a season since he scored 30 as a 35-year-old with the New York Rangers in 2006-07.
The personal marks are nice, but Jagr still competes for wins and to ultimately hoist the Stanley Cup again. He won two championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990s and is back in the playoffs for the 18th time this season to seek a third.
“To win the Stanley Cup is a long way,” Jagr said. “Just to make the playoffs is tough; a little over half the teams make it, so it’s not easy. Especially teams from the Eastern Conference (with 16 teams).”
The Panthers will play the New York Islanders in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports 2, SUN, MSG+). The Islanders lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.
Jagr has been held without a point in the series but has nine shots on goal while averaging 18:46 of ice time playing on a line with two talented young players, left wing Jonathan Huberdeau and center Aleksander Barkov.
Jagr, who has 78 goals and 199 points in 205 career NHL postseason games, hasn’t scored in his past 34 playoff games, dating to April 13, 2012, when he had a goal for the Philadelphia Flyers in their 8-5 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. He has gone his past five postseason games without a point.
“Everything is a lot tighter in the playoffs, so to score goals is a little bit tougher,” Jagr said. “They’re playing good defense, so we need to score on the power play. We didn’t do that, or didn’t get as many opportunities, and that’s where we should have the most chances. It’s a wait and see.”
Jagr’s teammates aren’t worried by his drought.
“I didn’t know he had that long stretch of not scoring goals, but whenever it comes, I think he’s going to score more goals and start believing in himself,” Barkov said. “He looks good, has had a lot of chances.”
Jagr was asked if he believes his luck has run out in the playoffs.
“I’m not going to talk about [luck],” he said. “I haven’t scored, but we’ll see what happens. It’s going to turn around, but maybe not. I’m not going to talk about luck.”
Jagr doesn’t believe the toll of an 82-game regular season has negatively impacted his playoff performance.
“I don’t mind (the physical play),” Jagr said. “I kind of like it. I like to play more physical than just skating because it’s more to my style. I really don’t like All-Star games because there is only skating. To me, hitting is better for my style, so I don’t mind that at all.”
Jagr has delivered three hits and absorbed six in three games against the Islanders, not unusual for a player of his status. Barkov has taken eight hits.
“I haven’t seen any [extra] physical play on Jagr,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s gotten a couple of bumps, but nothing different than what we saw in the regular season. He’s had good looks and chances but just hasn’t put the puck in the back of the net.”
Gallant believes Jagr will do so before long.
“He’s played good, so what can you do,” Gallant said. “The puck hasn’t gone in the net. He’s had opportunities and has made good plays. I’m sure it’s frustrating for him, but for me, just play well and work hard, and hopefully it’ll go in for him.”
The Panthers have 57.50 percent of all shots (SF%) when Jagr has been on the ice in the first three games against the Islanders, according to war-on-ice.com. When Jagr is on the bench, that number is 48.32 percent.
“I think puck possession [on the top line] is our biggest strength,” said Huberdeau, whose 62.79 SF% leads Florida. “Jagr and Barkov are two big bodies. They give me more room on the ice. We all have something to bring to our line.”
The Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr line has combined for one goal and four points in the series. Huberdeau (35.14) and Jagr (27.90) rank first and second for relative high-danger scoring chances percentage total in the playoffs, according to war-on-ice.com.
“We’ve had a lot of chances, especially in Game 1 of the series (when Florida took 46 shots),” Jagr said. “There were so many chances from our line, but it just didn’t happen. We like to pass to each other, but we also like to go 1-on-1. Maybe you start pressing a little bit, or maybe it’s confidence. I do think it’s a matter of time.”