BOSTON -- If Thursday night’s debut was a “tired” Jaromir Jagr not playing up to his own standards, then the Bruins will hope that the 41-year-old remains thoroughly exhausted through the final 12 regular season games and playoffs.
Maybe they’ll even put him through extra practices or arrange for 4 a.m. wakeup calls at his hotel room on the road because Jagr was the difference between winning and losing in his Boston Bruins debut. The future Hall of Famer potted his 15th goal of the season in the second period and that proved to be the game’s only score in a 1-0 victory for the B’s over the Devils at TD Garden.
But he was basically apologizing to Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin in his postgame comments because he felt that he wasn’t up to Jagr snuff after dealing with the tumult of moving from Dallas to Boston.
“I told [Marchand and Seguin] ‘I’ve got to get better.’ I felt bad for them they had to play with me, but I’ve got to get better. That’s for sure,” said Jagr, who also led the Bruins with five shots on net and brought the power play to life while logging a full two minutes on the man advantage. “I don’t know, maybe the stress of [being traded], and just surprised I got traded. Then I have to pack and get ready, and I didn’t sleep very well last night. I slept only two hours, so I don’t know what I meant. It just hits you. I have to go and sleep, and it’s going to get better.”
The Bruins will gladly take better as well, but a Thursday night game against the Devils turned into a giant Jagr welcoming party when he received a standing ovation after skating onto the ice for a face-off on his first shift of the game. There were chants of “Jagr! Jagr! Jagr!” for the mulleted one, and he quickly realized that he wasn’t in Big D playing hockey anymore.
“I appreciate it. I didn’t know the fans love hockey so much here in Boston,” said Jagr. “It’s a little bit different than playing in Dallas, that’s for sure. I don’t want to say anything about Dallas. They were great, but this is a different level.”
It was only fitting that the Jagr welcoming party turned into a Jagr shot party when the right winger finished off the only play in a game that featured 66 shots on goal.
On any other night Tuukka Rask would have been the game’s biggest story by making 40 saves in the shutout victory.
But this was Jagr’s Bruins debut where No. 68 tallied his 680th career goal and his 1,680th career point, and allowed everybody to start getting used to the admittedly odd sight of “Jagr” stenciled on the back of a Spoked ‘B’ sweater.
“Even at morning skate it was a little nerve wrecking being out there with him. Just felt like you got to give [the puck] to him all the time and watch him do his thing,” said Brad Marchand. “We grew up watching this guy and he was the best player throughout my childhood. It was an honor to watch him. It’s a little different playing with him now, but a lot of fun.
“He does like to slow things down. Me and [Tyler Seguin] are more straight ahead kind of guys, but we can use that to our advantage. We can use the speed and open things up for him. That’s the kind of stuff we have to do. He’s very strong on the puck, always makes great plays. We just got to give it to him and skate around and he’ll find us.”
While Jagr clearly doesn’t have the skating speed that he did while playing copilot to Mario Lemieux in the 1990’s, he showed off the elite hands, ideal size and strength and unique vision and hockey sense that still allow him to be effective offensively. It’s clear that Jagr is going to win plenty of battles around the net with his size and instincts, and his willingness to bring his big body to those areas.
He logged the entire 2:00 on Boston’s only power play of the night, and looked incredibly comfortable making plays while holding the puck behind New Jersey’s net.
In fact, his comfort and ease on the man advantage reminded many of a certain No. 91 that used to play for the Bruins – and the power play has never been the same since Marc Savard’s career was ravaged by a Matt Cooke blindside hit.
“We utilized him for his strength. I don’t know if it was meant to be a whole two minutes or more like a minute and a half or something and then he’ll come off. But it’s something that we thought was good for our team and good for him,” said Claude Julien. “Losing Bergeron the choices are getting thinner and thinner. So he’s a guy that can certainly quarterback a power play a lot like Savard used to do on the half wall.”
It wasn’t the world class hockey skill that brought the game-winning goal into Jagr’s sights. It was instead being in the right place at the right time while crashing the net when a Brad Marchand pass bounced off his left skate and right through Martin Brodeur’s leg pads. The younger Jagr might have scoffed at a goal off one of his skates, and perhaps even secretly hoped it didn’t actually count because it didn’t win any style points out on the ice.
“Sometimes you have to be lucky to score. I think that’s the first time I scored with my leg, I guess,” said Jagr. “When I was 25, I wouldn’t have liked that goal, but at 41, I’ll take anything right now.”
Some may feel that Jagr was simply a trade deadline consolation prize for the Bruins after missing out on Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla, but it’s difficult to view it that way after watching just the first 19 minutes of ice time for the Czech legend with the Original Six hockey club.
The opening production of Jagr in Boston looked promising on Thursday night, and it would seem that the best is still yet to come.