Jagr busts out with 2 goal game for Flyers
Jaromir Jagr flashed a few reminders of his old MVP style.
That signature move. He broke out a salute to fans and his Philadelphia Flyers teammates after each of his two goals - a trademark Jagr hadn't regularly displayed since his Pittsburgh Penguins days.
That smile. After a rough start to the season, Jagr had a pair of wide grins to celebrate the goals that helped snap the Flyers out of a two-game funk.
That celebration. Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds leapt into Jagr's arms after his first goal and the rest of his teammates mobbed him as if he had scored the winning goal in a playoff game. In NFL terms, it was Mile High Salute meets Lambeau Leap.
In his NHL return, Jagr has become an instant team leader and fan favorite, even as concerns over his scoring slump lingered.
Not any more.
''I'll take Jagr on any goalie in the league, any time,'' Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said.
All that was missing was the mullet.
Jagr and Hartnell each scored two goals in Philadelphia's 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night, giving the Flyers a reason to feel good about a game where they lost captain Chris Pronger to a serious eye injury.
Jagr had the breakout game courtesy of the breakaway.
Both of his goals came when it was Jagr-on-Jonas Gustavsson and nothing but ice between them. Jagr scored his first NHL goal since April 6, 2008, courtesy of a sweet feed from Claude Giroux, when he split a pair of defenders and skated into the open ice for a power-play goal late in the first period.
After the Maple Leafs cut the deficit to 3-2 in the third, Jagr found himself all alone on a breakaway for the easy score - and one more salute.
''You don't want to see Jaromir Jagr coming in alone with nobody around him,'' Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. ''He is going to more than likely bury it. Another breakaway. We had them on the fullcourt press. He's a fantastic player when he gets time and space like that.''
Jagr had his best game as a Flyer since he returned from a three-year stint in the Kontinental Hockey League for Avangard Omsk. He enjoyed Russia, but wanted one more shot at the NHL. He played last spring for the Czech Republic in the world championships, totaling nine points in nine games, and proved he had still had something left in the tank.
The preseason returns for the 1999 league MVP showed he hadn't lost much of a step. Jagr scored four goals and it was natural to think that would carry over into the regular season.
Not quite. Jagr had four assists, but struggled to find shots, much less the net. Even for a veteran and a Stanley Cup champion, the goal-scoring drought affected his confidence.
Jagr changed everything from his skates and gloves to mix up his luck. He laughed when he said he was hit during warmups, which might have jostled free the recipe for that old scoring touch.
''I thought I was going to play better than I did, that's for sure,'' Jagr said. ''After a while, you're mentally tired and you're pressing and you just can't score. You stop playing your game. A lot of stuff is mental, trust me. You could see the difference on anybody when they score and when they don't score.''
Jagr now has 648 goals in his NHL career, ranking among the game's all-time best. The Czech star is one of 25 players with a Stanley Cup and gold medals from the Olympics and world championships. His teammates preached patience as Jagr adjusts to an evolved NHL game.
''He had a great preseason and I think everyone was expecting 50 goals in 50 games,'' Hartnell said. ''It's not reality.''
Jagr had so much fun, he bust out the salute for busting out of the slump. Jagr said he hadn't pulled off the move in 15 years.
''We had a little wager going on the side to see if he was going to do it or not,'' Hartnell said. ''He hasn't lost a step with that. It's nice to see him with a big grin on his face.''
The Flyers needed a reason to smile after losing Pronger, their star defenseman and leader, to a serious eye injury. Pronger will miss two to three weeks and spend the next few days on bed rest after taking a brutal blow to the outside of the right eye.
Pronger and Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski sprinted for a loose puck in the circle after a rebound off Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in the first period. Grabovski slapped at the puck, but his stick connected with Pronger's and the blade shot straight up into the defenseman's face.
Pronger, who does not wear a visor, complained of blurred vision.
''I think he was very scared and rightly so,'' Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. ''When something like that happens to your eye, you're worried about what's going on. I think he settled down over a period of time and was fine when he left.''
In the postgame locker room, Flyers were visibly relieved when questions shifted from Pronger to Jagr.
Jagr had his 114th career two-goal game - but with both scores on breakaways, he knows he has to find more creative methods.
''I've got to find another move,'' Jagr said, with one final big smile on the night.