Jaromir Jagr is counting heavily on the return of Martin Straka to help him get his offensive game in gear. Analyzing his goal scoring drought for a Czech reporter after Sunday's loss to Dallas (here is the original Czech article) -- he scored a goal while trying to pass to Straka, his first goal and his first point in six games, giving him only five goals and 13 points in 24 games this season -- Jagr described how difficult it has been for him to mesh his style with any Ranger other than Straka. "I couldn’t find a way to click and gel with our new additions," he said of the two free agent centers the Rangers acquired over the summer, both of whom are experiencing scoring woes of their own. "We invested a lot of money in our centermen but I ended up with a guy who came up from the farm."
Jagr had nothing but praise for the "guy who came up from the farm," Brandon Dubinsky. "He’s a great guy," Jagr said. "He works really hard. Hat’s off! I like him. I know he’s doing the best he can." But in the long run, he feels that he needs to mesh better with a more experienced center. Jagr concedes that Scott Gomez is not that guy. "It would work with him somehow, but not the way it was expected to work," he said. "It’s better for him to play with Shanahan. He [Shanahan] is a natural goal scorer, he doesn’t want the puck in the neutral zone. I do. Me and Gomez play a similar style. We both go back for the puck. We found ourselves both coming to the defensemen when the play was about to break out. That was weird."
Chris Drury remains a possibility. "We didn’t play much together, four games perhaps," Jagr said of their early season match-up. "We then tried Dubinsky and that kind of worked." But Drury has been used in several situations with Jagr over the past few games -- one game on the left wing with Dubinsky centering, and then in power play situations and late in the last game with Drury centering and Straka on left wing. To say that Jagr was relieved to see Straka come back is an understatement. "You bet!" Jagr said when asked about it. "I don’t care whether I score or not -- it’s fun for me again to play. Straks would wait for me, give it back to me. We understand each other and we suddenly have more scoring chances. I thought I was going to have a stroke when he came back to play at Florida and then left again with a pulled muscle!"
Asked about the paucity of shots he got during his five-game pointless streak (only five total), Jagr said, "I didn’t even get any scoring chances." Pressed about specific chances that he passed up looking for a pass, he conceded, "OK, when you don’t finish often enough, you lose your instincts. It takes a while to get them back." He also conceded that his self-confidence has waned. "Sure," he responded when asked about it. "I need to play my game. I can’t dump and chase the puck -- I don’t know how to do that. When my linemates send it up the ice, I’m suddenly on the other side of the rink. That wears you out a lot! No matter how well-conditioned you are. You’re flying up and down the ice without the puck. I felt like I was in an elevator -- up, down. I could conform. I could dump the puck in and chase it. But I’d be late. Seriously, without the puck I’m useless out there."
It helps that the team is winning while he tries to figure his way out of his slump. "I’ve got more time to get out of it," he said. And he has no problem with the defensive style the team relies on for its wins these days. "You can’t win anything with open hockey," Jagr explained. "You need superb goaltending and rock solid defense. Otherwise you go into the playoffs and get swept. It’s hard to score on us even for players who have lots of points. Period after period, you see how they’re losing it -- they can’t play at all, their frustration grows. If a team from the 80s played in today’s NHL, they’d have no chance. Today’s team would demolish them. Back then, guys didn’t backcheck, they weren't as strong. It’s so much harder to come through nowadays. Coaches prepare their teams so well for every game. They know exactly what they have to do. The team works like a machine."
At this point, Jagr is unsure where he stands for next season. "If they don’t want me on the team, what should I do here? Take out the trash?" he quipped. He is not even sure where he stands on the team this season. "If I don't play well, I’ll lose my position," he said. "But that’s normal." Asked if it’s like his days with the Penguins when he jumped on the ice when he wanted no matter what the coach said, Jagr responded, "Those times are long gone!" And looking ahead to the Rangers possibly opening next season in Prague, Jagr, who put in a good word for the event, said, "I have no idea what’s going on right now. It’s even possible that there won’t be one single Czech on the team next year."
Jagr told the reporter that he and the Rangers have not spoken about a contract extension. But of course, the Rangers would not want to consider an extension until they knew whether the option year in his contract would extend their cap-friendly salary sharing arrangement with the Caps. Larry Brooks reports in the Post today that the terms of the current CBA forced the team to renounce the club option that was in the original contract. That happened right after the CBA was signed, before the first post-lockout season began. So the only way for Jagr to remain with the Rangers for an extra season with the Caps picking up almost half the bill would be for him to hit his achievable targets -- now down to scoring 84 points (which would require a far from inconceivable 66 points in the remaining 58 games, assuming that 35 goals in 58 games is indeed inconceivable at this point) and winning one playoff series.
In other news, as the Rangers return to practice in anticipation of their Thursday night Garden match against the Islanders, the Ranger power play is the subject in the Daily News, their offense in general is the subject in Newsday, and how good the team might be is Stan Fischler's subject at MSG.com. Fischler also looks ahead to the Islander game at MSG.com. Hockey Rodent breaks down the Rangers' defensive breakdowns vs. Dallas using video stills. At ESPN.com, Henrik Lundqvist doesn't rank in their top three Hart candidates (although he's tops for the Vezina), the Rangers look pretty good among their Original Six rankings, and the only Ranger-related entries in the ten worst salary cap contracts are the ones they passed up (Nylander, Chara, Jovanovsky -- so far). In the Times, if you're interested, an article on the demise of the goal judge. In Howlings, Mitch Beck reviews Wolf Pack themes from last night's season subscriber meeting with the Rangers' coaching staff (we'll have the Ranger-related portion tomorrow), and he also takes a look at the injury plague that has hit Hartford. In Prospect Park, Jess has a teddy bear story that is not exactly warm and fuzzy.