Jaromir Jagr was 40 years old when the Dallas Stars signed him to a one-year deal in July 2012 hoping to get contributions from a future Hall of Famer during what many figured to be the tail end of his career.
Three years later, Jagr still is playing in the NHL – and at a high level to boot.
He’ll look to continue his hot start as the Florida Panthers try to win four of their first five for the first time in 20 years when they host Dallas on Saturday night.
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Jagr had 26 points in 34 games for the Stars during the lockout-shortened 2013 season before being traded to Boston and helping it reach the Stanley Cup Final. He signed with New Jersey before last season, then was dealt to the Panthers shortly after his 43rd birthday in February and recorded six goals and 12 assists in 20 games.
The Panthers (3-1-0) inked him to a one-year contract April 12 – the day after their 2014-15 season ended – and Jagr has delivered. He had two goals in a season-opening win over Philadelphia on Oct. 10 and scored twice while adding an assist in Thursday’s 3-2 win over Buffalo.
Jagr has six points in his first four games for the first time since posting 11 during a six-game streak to begin the 2006-07 season while with the New York Rangers. His solid run this year has helped bring the Panthers to the verge of their first 4-1-0 start since 1995-96, when they made the franchise’s lone appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
”Sometimes the puck goes in, sometimes it doesn’t,” Jagr said. ”It doesn’t matter what you do. I learned that over 25 years. Right now the puck is going in, so I’m trying to shoot it.”
His former team also is off to a 3-1-0 start after Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin finished with a goal and an assist apiece in Thursday’s 5-3 win at Tampa Bay.
The Stars last won four of their first five during a 6-1-0 opening run in 2011-12.
Spezza has four goals and two assists after following up Tuesday’s hat trick against Edmonton with another solid effort to begin Dallas’ trip.
”It’s been a good week for me,” Spezza said. ”I’m just trying to keep it going.
"It’s a tough league, and you have to win games when you can. When you have a four-game trip against Eastern teams you don’t know well, it is good to start it off with a win."
The Stars are facing injury concerns, though. They recalled Curtis McKenzie from the AHL on Wednesday after Patrick Eaves was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, but McKenzie suffered an apparent leg injury when he was hit hard by Tampa’s Nikita Nesterov, who was given a game misconduct.
Coach Lindy Ruff said after the game that McKenzie was in "excruciating pain" and taken to a local hospital for evaluation. There’s been no official word on the extent of the injury or how much time he’ll miss.
Kari Lehtonen made 30 saves Thursday in his second straight start. He had a 37-save shutout in the first meeting with the Panthers last season but was removed after allowing three goals on 14 shots before Dallas rallied for a 4-3 shootout victory March 5.
Roberto Luongo hasn’t faced Dallas since making 35 saves in a 3-2 victory April 6, 2014. He has a 1.34 goals-against average while starting three games this season.