Jagr growing more confident as Devils win
NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils right wing Jaromir Jagr has a message for the rest of the NHL.
"I feel this year the cockiness is coming back a little bit," Jagr said. "I want to be the best I can be. As long as I stay healthy, I guarantee I'll do the maximum to be the best I can be every night. I like that attitude."
Jagr, 41, is backing up his words with production.
He brings a five-game point-scoring streak into New Jersey's game Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers at Prudential Center, where the Devils will be trying for their third straight win. Jagr leads the team with 10 points (three goals and seven assists).
But why did it take Jagr until his third season back in the NHL to feel like he has regained his cockiness?
He had it when he left the NHL in 2008 to go play in the Kontinental Hockey League with Omsk Avangard. But it did not return with him when he came back and signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in the summer of 2011.
"At 39 you think differently," Jagr said. "Play third or second line, just be a part of it, but then you listen to the voices, 'He cannot play anymore, he's done.' I don't want to hear it anymore. I've worked so hard so I don't want to hear it from [the media]."
Jagr's breakaway goal in the second period Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning was the game-winner in a 2-1 victory. It moved him into sole possession of second place on the NHL's all-time list for game-winning goals. He has 119, two fewer than Gordie Howe.
Jagr entered that game with six assists in the previous four games and has helped the Devils go 3-1-1 in their past five. In his first seven games with New Jersey, Jagr had three points, two goals and an assist, and the Devils went 0-4-3.
"This guy, he's amazing the way he plays the game," goalie Martin Brodeur said. "I knew of him. I played against him when he was young, so I can't say anything about his past. But what I've seen in two months here, it's pretty amazing to see him go. Not just in games the way he plays, but the way he conducts himself, the way he is in the room and the way he practices.
"He talks to the kids and talks even to the older players. Me and him have had a lot of conversations about a lot of different things, and it's fun having a guy like that, that's got so much to give for this organization."
That includes a unique sense of humor. Take for example Jagr's excuses for his early-season scoring woes:
"Guys, I'm 41 years old, I'm not going to blame myself, I've got to blame something else," Jagr said. "I cannot say I didn't play well. I cannot blame the hands because they were pretty good to me my whole life. So, I blamed the stick. Sometimes you've got to blame something and they treat you well."
And what was he thinking during his breakaway goal Tuesday against the Lightning?
"Don't get injured," Jagr said. "Don't go too fast because my body is not used to going fast so I have to slow down a little bit, but I cannot slow down too much because they would catch me from behind. It was one, two, three, four, what kind of move am I going to make? It was No. 5, so that's what I did."
The next day, when Jagr found out the goal left him two short of Howe's record, he told the media, "At least I got a good picture." Jagr even recreated how he posed for the picture.
Brodeur, though, had a feeling Jagr would score against the Lightning. After all, Jagr repeatedly scored on Brodeur during the morning skate.
"I didn't stop one," Brodeur said. "I stopped him all week and [Tuesday] he decided to score on me and I couldn't stop him. So that's how good he is when he wants to be."
Jagr wouldn't be smiling and joking as much if the Devils hadn't started winning some games. He's been a big part of that.
"He feels comfortable playing with me and Loktionov and that helps," Elias told NHL.com.
He'll stay with them as long as he remains comfortable. Jagr told coach Peter DeBoer earlier in the season that he doesn't want to bounce from line to line, that his preference is to find linemates who work well with him and to stay with them for as long as possible.
"The key was trying to find the right people with him," DeBoer said.
DeBoer said Elias was a natural fit, likely because of his experience as Jagr's teammate on the Czech Republic national team. Elias also works because one of his strengths is playing off of linemates; that's an essential aspect of playing with Jagr, who likes to hold the puck and create plays off the wall.
Elias said he and Loktionov work well with Jagr because they're not straight up-and-down players. As a result, they are able to adjust to Jagr's playmaking ability.
"We have to because he swings a lot," Elias said. "Once he stops it's tough to get going for him, and that's why he has to have good players to play with him so they can adjust and move into the right spots. If he plays with some other guys here and has to play just up-and-down hockey, he would skate into them all the time."
Jagr is instead making the opposition try to skate toward him, opening more space for Elias and Loktionov.
"When he holds onto it he gets two guys on him all the time. So if he makes plays out of that we can get even better chances because they have to pay attention to him," Elias said. "They see he can still cause a lot of problems."
Jagr's rediscovered swagger is now allowing him to cause even greater problems for the opposition.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer