When Mr. 600 Performs Well, So Do The Rangers
By Joe McDonald
NEW YORK - He has only scored 78 goals as a Blueshirt, so tallying his 600th of his career wasn't of great importance for the Rangers.
What was important though was the timing of becoming the 16th player to accomplish that milestone. It proved one thing about Jaromir Jagr.
Simply put, as the Ranger captain goes, so do the Blueshirts.
The goal - scored 1:43 into Sunday's 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, when Jagr put a rebound of Karel Rachunek's slap shot past Johan Holmqvist - set the tone for New York as they won maybe their easiest game of the season.
It relaxed the team and they concentrated on the situation at hand.
"Jaromir Jagr is our guy, and there's no question that we ride his shoulders a long way," said coach Tom Renney, but added that it was more than his captain. "At the same time, that line was terrific tonight, and [in Pittsburgh] they were out of sync."
Its true Jagr looked distracted in Saturday's loss in Pittsburgh. He was booed heavily everytime he touched the puck and took some careless penalties.
"It's tough. In Pittsburgh, there was all the negative energy around," he said. "I touch the puck and they were booing. It's not easy to play. I didn't feel very comfortable. Everybody wants you to do bad. Eventually it's going to happen."
With such a tough time, it was obvious why the Rangers lost that game 3-1.
Nevertheless, Jagr got his 600th the next night. It's good that it happened so quickly because the longer it lingered, the more focus would be on that one goal, which would distract a team still trying to find its identity.
Jagr said he didn't try to think about it because he would eventually score the goal "if the guys passed him the puck."
That attitude allowed Renney and the team to just think about the win.
"I am really really happy for Jaromir, but I wasn't dwelling on it," the coach said. "It allowed all of us to think about the game and concentrate on the win."
Although the 600th goal and Jagr's ninth of the season came later than most thought, because of his recovery from shoulder surgery, the Ranger captain has been dishing the puck off more this season, which is allowing both linemates Martin Straka [10 goals] and Michael Nylander [9 goals] more chances to light the lamp themselves.
"We are trying to play the same way and trying to find the people who are open," Nylander said. "We are getting more opportunities to score goals. Martin has been great and he is finding himself open. Me and Martin are going more to the net than usual and it's creating more opportunity."
No matter how the Rangers are doing it, Jagr's 23 assists is what is defining the team this season. He is acting like a playmaker, which is now taking the early double teaming off of him and because his shoulder is not up to 100 percent, Jagr is finding new ways in scoring goals.
"Yeah, I am now a power forward," Jagr quipped about his milestone, but that is something which wasn't there last season.
But no matter how he does it, any scoring from the captain is wanted.
"He's ok," Shanahan, who score his 600th on opening night, said. "He's very welcome [into the 600 goals club]."
Notes: Jagr became the fourth player to score his 600th in a Ranger uniform, joining Phil Esposito, Mike Gartner and Shanahan. Four other players who wore the Blueshirt, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Marcel Dionne and Jari Kurri, have scored more than 600 with other teams.