April 5, 2013

Jagr shows he still brings plenty to the table

By Andrew Merritt

Jaromir Jagr carries the puck up the ice during his Bruins debut Thursday at TD Garden. (Getty Images)

BOSTON – Jaromir Jagr said he only got two hours of sleep before his Bruins debut.

With all due respect to one of the greatest scorers in the history of the game, it showed.

Jagr played his first game wearing the spoked B Thursday, “scoring” the only goal in a 1-0 Bruins victory over the Devils. The most celebrated of the three trade-deadline additions to the Boston lineup, Jagr certainly had things to be positive about, but even he knew his opening performance wasn’t his best, and was in an apologetic mood after the game.

“I told [linemates Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand], ‘I’ve got to get better,’” Jagr said. “I felt bad for them they had to play with me, but I’ve got to get better. That’s for sure.”

It wasn’t all bad by any means. In addition to the goal – scored when Marchand fired a perfect ricochet off Jagr’s skate as the big winger wrestled with New Jersey’s Bryce Salvador on a rush to the net – Jagr led the Bruin forwards with 19:12 of ice time, and had a team-high five shots on net, plus one attempt that was blocked. Boston had one power play, on a David Clarkson interference infraction with 7:05 gone in the second, and Jagr played all two minutes of it.

The living legend impressed Seguin with his ability to ward off defenders while playing with the puck, as well.

“It’s pretty cool to watch,” Seguin said. “You see him going to the corners or the side of the rink, and he really puts out his arm or get his big butt in there, I guess. He’s a pretty strong boy, so we see that happening, [Marchand] and I are trying to get there for him as quick as possible, and with more chemistry we should pick up all of those pucks.”

While coach Claude Julien was happy with Jagr’s debut effort, he recognized that it wasn’t a perfect outing.

“I think he did a great job for a guy that just arrived yesterday and didn’t really practice with us much,” said Julien, who added that he thought Seguin and Marchand at times concerned themselves too much with trying to find their high-profile teammate with the puck.

It was a mixed bag of results for Jagr. On his second shift of the game, Jagr was caught hanging out by the half boards in the defensive zone and failed to cover the point for a New Jersey shot – one of 40 taken by the Devils during a stellar Tuukka Rask shutout. But later in the period, presented with a similar situation, Jagr squared up to Devil defenseman Henrik Tallinder well, and Tallinder’s shot had nowhere to go but off of Jagr’s stick and out of harm’s way.

There have been more impressive debut goals than the one Jagr scored 1:20 into the second period. On a rush with Marchand and Seguin, Jagr went toward the net, and his left skate was a perfect backboard for a centering pass from Marchand. It wasn’t exactly reminiscent of the great goals Jagr has scored – gone are the days of the Czech maestro regularly stickhandling through multiple defenders – but the 41-year-old Jagr was in good spirits about the grinder’s goal.

“They always said, ‘You’ve got to drive to the net,’ and now I understand why they were saying that,” Jagr said. “If I knew it when I was 20 I would have a hundred more goals by now.”

The expectations for Jagr are undoubtedly high, though they’re not as lofty as they might have been a few years (and a few one-year contracts) ago. Still, with keystone center Patrice Bergeron out indefinitely with his fourth concussion, it’s obvious that the Bruins could use the spark Jagr can provide.

“Even though it’s just our first game I think with more progression and actual practice under our belt, [Marchand] and I will be able to use our speed a little bit more with the space that Jagr is giving us,” said Seguin, who was doing some adjusting of his own as he slotted into Bergeron’s centerman role on the second line.

While the Bruins missed out on the biggest sweepstakes of the trade deadline when Jarome Iginla went from Calgary to Pittsburgh, Jagr’s addition should give some offensive pop to a lineup that has been inconsistent of late.

If he can come through, there ought to be fewer sleepless nights ahead – for Jagr and for his new team.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at amerritt@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @a_merritt.