Jagr's Impact Goes Beyond Back of the Net
BostonBruins.com - On Monday morning, reporters were filing into the press conference at TD Garden to speak with Bruins' Head Coach Claude Julien. The team was off, and no full practice being held until Tuesday morning.
But there was Jaromir Jagr, taking turns on the ice in a warm-up suit, with ankle weights taped to his skates, a weight vest strapped on, and his familiar Bruins' winter tuque (which, ironically has the "Stanley Cup Champions" phrase ribboned around the hat's brim).
It's a familiar scene; there just aren't always people around.
At 41 years old, everyone - including Jagr himself - knows that he's not the same player that he was when he put up 12 straight 30-plus goal seasons from 1991-2003, and surpassed the 50-goal plateau three times.
Throughout the 2013 postseason, though the Bruins have propelled themselves into the Eastern Conference Finals (getting to face the vet's former long-time team in the Pittsburgh Penguins), Jagr has only put up four assists and has yet to find the back of the net.
And it's not for lack of chances, as Henrik Lundqvist gave him nightmares during the second round, and the winger has strung together 36 shots on goal throughout the course of the postseason. That's good for fourth on the Bruins' roster, behind Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.
He had four shots in the Game Five series-clincher over New York, one that Lundqvist robbed him on, point-blank (the two shared a laugh in the handshake line postgame, and I can only imagine it wasn't just a friendly former teammate smile, after the job 'The King' did thwarting Jagr.)
Since Game Seven against Toronto, Jagr has been skating on a line centered by Bergeron, with Brad Marchand on the left wing. No. 63 began to find a scoring touch, putting up two goals and three assists in the series (including the OT-winner in Game One), with Bergeron adding three assists.
Because Jagr's style of play is his best asset, finding a steady line for him at the end of the regular season - with players who could adapt to his game - was a challenge. His game involves being strong on the puck and cycling pucks down low; the respect he has from opponents allows him to be a threat, as evidenced by the amount of bodies drawn to him, whenever he's on the ice.
"When you look at his stats, it may not be indicative of what he’s done, but I know, for one thing, I think right now he’s snake-bitten because he’s had some real good opportunities to score and they haven’t gone in for him," said Coach Julien on Monday morning from TD Garden, as Jagr was getting in skating drills a few hundred feet away on the ice.
"But the good part is, he’s created those, he’s made those happen. Not only that, the line that he’s with right now [with Bergeron and Marchand] has been a good line. He’s part of that success. He brings a lot of players towards him because they know one-on-one won’t do it with Jags, he’s so strong and good on the puck that they need, sometimes, a couple of guys on him."
"That makes room for other guys. That line’s been able to take advantage of that. I think he’s been good."
"We didn’t get the 25-year-old Jags, but more of a Jags that’s maybe a little older, but still extremely good at what he does. I said that before, where he may have lost a little bit of speed, yet he’s made it up with smarts," added Julien.
"He makes good decisions out there, he’s strong on the puck and, like I said, makes things happens. I’m happy with his play. He may be hard on himself, but like I said, we knew what we were getting, and we were getting what we expected and maybe even a little bit more."
And despite the drought, you can feel a breakout against his former team might be on the way, because, well, frankly, it's still the same "Jagr" with the work ethic that continues to generate wonder and awe.
Following the Bruins' Game Two, 5-2, matinee win over the Rangers at TD Garden, Jagr was seen taking to the ice in his tuque and skates, stickhandling and honing his skills - similar to Monday morning.
"I think you've got to let Jaromir take care of Jaromir, because he knows his body, knows himself," Coach Julien had said in the following days, when asked about the extra skate by Jagr that Sunday, following a hard-fought win.
"Right now, it's about making sure guys feel good about themselves. Whatever it takes, I'm going to give days off when I feel it's needed."
"Just let him do what he has to do. He's a guy that demands a lot of himself."
"He doesn't need to be the Jagr of 20 years ago or 15 years ago. He needs to be the Jags that we have right now."
And no part of Coach Julien has been surprised at the longevity of Jagr's career.
"He’s a pretty committed individual. He’s dedicated to conditioning and everything else," said Julien. "I think he deserves a lot of credit for keeping himself going that long because it’s certainly by the way he treats his body and how he trains and how he takes care of himself."
Back when the Bruins acquired Jagr around the trade deadline, I had asked him about his well-known work ethic, and how much emphasis he places on keeping the same routines, year after year.
"I always believe if you don't work, you can't compete against the best and you cannot play," Jagr had said.
"I always liked to do a little extra when I was younger, I just didn't talk about it or nobody knew, and now everybody starts wondering why I do that?" he had smiled. "Without extra work, it's tough to compete in this league."
Coach Julien understood that notion, when being questioned about Jagr's extra skates.
"Good for him, at his age, for not being satisfied. I think that's remarkable, a guy that's been around, that's accomplished so much, is still willing to go out there and continue to try and improve himself."
"That, to me, is impressive."