2007-01-19 / Sports

Times And Role Are A Changing for Rangers' Jagr

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

Jaromir Jagr holds the puck. Photo By Peter Borriello.
Jaromir Jagr holds the puck. Photo By Peter Borriello. EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - It seemed so easy last year.

Jaromir Jagr was scoring at will which propelled the Rangers to their first playoff appearance in seven seasons.

But, 2006-07 has been different. Jagr has been recovering from a dislocated shoulder, suffered during last season's playoff against the Devils, which has hindered his once heavy slap shot. As a result, the Rangers have seen a different player this year, but one just as effective.

The goals are down with only 17 scored through 47 games, which put him on pace for 30 over a full 82 game season. He's still an effective passer, recording 42 assists and that might stretch to a total of 73 for the year. "There are different games and different types of ways people are defending him," linemate Michael Nylander said. "When there are two guys on him, he just passes the puck off and there is a good chance for another one of us."

Jagr is indeed trying to play the game a little differently from last year. He is not just in his regular spot on the right side of ice by the circle, but trying to be at different locations, including the front of the net.

And that creates scoring opportunities for Nylander and Martin Straka. Because the three have played together for over a year, they know where each other is on the ice, which creates a cohesive unit with defenseman Michal Rozsival and Marek Malik. And that helps when teams are trying to match the Rangers with their top checking lines.

"[Rangers coach] Tom [Renney] doesn't like to do matchups," Jagr explained. "So at home or on the road, I will always face the best player. That's a disadvantage for me. [Keeping the top line together] will compensate for something else.

"We play on the same level and we can talk about it. If we don't do the matchups then we need to have five guys out there who know what they are doing. That's the only way we can beat them."

A case in point came Tuesday when the Devils put out the line of Sergei Brylin, John Madden and Jay Pandolfo against the Rangers top line. To counteract that, Jagr would double shift with the fourth line, which gives others a chance.

""[We weren't] matching the lines, but don't give them anything that easy, let them work for it," said Jagr. "That's why I wanted to stay a little bit longer, see what they are going to do. If they're going to match me individually, then Mikey [Nylander] and [Straka] should have a different line. But you can always improve for next game."

The Rangers lost 1-0 in that game and after Saturday, they have the All-Star break to work on things. At the behest of general manager Glen Sather, Jagr was kept out of the mid-winter classic at Dallas in order to help his still hurting shoulder. "We spoke about it," Jagr said about his All-Star absence. "I just want to do what's best for the team. If I had a choice to miss the playoffs or All-Star game, I will miss the All-Star game. I think those days [of rest] can give me something to help the team after that."

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