|Pittsburgh not the same for returning Jagr|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 23 April 2008 13:46|
He already gets booed every time he touches the puck in Pittsburgh, but now that he is returning for a playoff series as captain of the New York Rangers, the venom could be that much more potent.
``I'll have to wait and see what it's going to be,'' the 36-year-old Jagr said Wednesday. ``It's going to be probably worse than it was in the regular season, but that shouldn't make any difference.''
The fifth-seeded Rangers will open the Eastern Conference semifinals series against the No. 2 Penguins on Friday in Pittsburgh. Mellon Arena used to rock with fans who loved the young and flashy Jagr, who flew up and down the ice with his trendy mullet flapping in the wind.
Jagr ranks second to Lemieux all over the Penguins record book. In 806 games between 1990 and his trade to Washington after the 2000-01 season, Jagr had 439 goals and 640 assists. He is first in Pittsburgh history with 78 game-winning goals.
``I don't feel old. I don't act old,'' Jagr said. ``It's not about your age, it's all about how you're acting. When you're acting young, it makes you feel young. That's all that matters. That's why I hang out with the younger guys.''
Put the credentials together with the two Stanley Cup titles he won in his first two NHL seasons, and it would seem that Jagr would always been welcomed home to Pittsburgh where he still owns a house.
The reality is quite the opposite. His departure was messy and the fans view his desire to leave Pittsburgh as a slap in the face that can't easily be forgotten.
Jagr saw the bitter feelings Scott Gomez got all season when he went back to New Jersey for the first season since leaving the Devils for the hated Rangers. He knows what's it's like, but also knows that the boos and cat calls don't sting as much now that seven years have passed since he donned the black and gold.
``There is an element of loyalty that has certainly dissolved in this game given the nature of contracts and free agency and the business of it that doesn't allow the fans to embrace the players for real long, unfortunately,'' Rangers coach Tom Renney said. ``It happened. It's the metamorphosis of a player and a franchise in this league.
``The fans can do whatever they want and I think we all have to accept and understand that whether we like it or not.''
The Penguins have undergone another massive change and are now constructed around the dynamic duo of reigning NHL MVP Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a legit contender for the honor this season.
Jagr is impressed by what that pair has done, but he isn't ready to say that they are the next version of Lemieux and himself.
``All the respect for Crosby and Malkin, I don't think they are Mario Lemieux,'' Jagr said. ``The gap between the best players and the worst players on the team are very small compared to what it was before. The gap between Mario and the rest of the guys when I was in Pittsburgh was so huge, that he was able to score 20 points in one playoff series. I don't think those kids are able to do that.
``Maybe I'm wrong. If I'm wrong, I'm going to apologize and tell them great job. That's the difference between the 90s, the team I played on, and this team.''
The Penguins are in the playoffs for the second straight year after a four-season absence. Crosby is the captain at the young age of 20, while the 21-year-old Malkin put together his MVP resume during Crosby's lengthy absence caused by an ankle injury.
Jagr was humble when asked whether Malkin is the current version of himself. In two seasons with the Penguins, Malkin has 80 goals and 191 points. Jagr had 59 goals and 126 points in his first two.
``I didn't have that many responsibilities when I was his age,'' he said. ``I became a better player when I had more responsibilities. When Mario retired for three years, I started having more responsibilities and I won the scoring (title). That's when I became a better player, but I was ready to go.
``He has probably better numbers than I had at my age. The league has changed.''
The new, open NHL does create more inflated scoring numbers than in the decade before the lockout. So not much is the same in Pittsburgh as it was.
``I don't understand, personally, why he is getting booed here,'' said Penguins forward Petr Sykora, Jagr's Czech Republic conutryman. ``He did some great things for the city, he was on two Stanley Cup teams, won some scoring titles.
``I'm sure he's going to get booed. I know Jags, and I think he can get this stuff out of his way. When he's focused, he's focused on hockey and hockey only. He's been around the block a long time, he knows how to deal with this stuff.''
Jagr's game has picked up over the past month. He regained more of the scoring touch that has racked up over 600 NHL goals. He scored two and had a team-high eight points in the Rangers' five-game series win over New Jersey that set up the second-round matchup with the Penguins.
``Basically anywhere you leave, aside from being traded, especially as a free agent, you're going to get booed,'' Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. ``The better you are, the louder the boos. That's why Jags faces that, because he's a great player.''