Through the years Pittsburgh fans have become accustomed to watching Jaromir Jagr score big goals. So it was nothing new, really, to see No. 68 find an open patch of ice and whip his patented backhander past an opposing goalie. Trouble is, the one-time Penguins’ great accomplished the feat Thursday night at the CONSOL Energy Center while wearing an orange-and-black jersey.
In his much ballyhooed return to the ‘Burgh after snubbing a contact offer from his former team, the legendary Czech notched a key second-period goal to pace Philadelphia to an impressive 4-2 victory over the Penguins.
“We made a lot of sloppy plays,” said Pens winger Tyler Kennedy, who notched a goal and an assist in a losing cause. “If you want to be a great team, you’ve got to be better than that.”
The atmosphere at the CONSOL fairly crackled with electricity as the sellout crowd eagerly awaited the opening faceoff. Predictably, Jagr was greeted by a deafening chorus of boos when he emerged from the visitor’s runway.
Forty-four seconds in the roof nearly blew off the sparkling new arena when the home team struck for a dramatic opening goal. Kennedy won a puck battle behind the net and fed Jordan Staal to the left of the cage. Hale and hearty for the first time in weeks, the big center rifled a shot off Sergei Bobrovsky’s blocker for his 15th goal of the season.
Moments later, Philly villain Scott Hartnell handed the Pens a golden opportunity to seize control when he was given the gate for goaltender interference. However, the black and gold failed to capitalize.
As the steam slowly seeped from the Pens’ attack, the Flyers knotted the score midway through the period with a power-play goal. Wayne Simmonds stripped the puck from Zbynek Michalek and slipped it to Claude Giroux along the goal line. The NHL scoring leader dished a nifty pass to defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who drilled a 20-footer past Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Pens nearly regained the lead late in the period, but James Neal fanned on an attempt from close range. The stage was set for Jagr’s moment of vindication. At the six-minute mark of the second period the expatriate winger gathered in a pass from Giroux and beat Fleury to the glove-hand side. He promptly skated to the sideboards and gestured to the crowd in a mock salute, eliciting a fresh wave of venom from the Pens’ faithful.
Unfortunately, their hometown heroes failed to respond. Rookie Matt Read stretched Philly’s lead to 3-1 at 16:11 with his 12th goal of the season. Kennedy finally countered for Pittsburgh with six-and-a-half minutes to play, but the Pens squandered a late power play with the game on the line. Max Talbot sealed the victory for his new team with an empty-netter at 19:35.
“The fans shouldn’t be worried about some 40-year-old guy,” Jagr said afterward. “The biggest mistake [Penguins] management made was not signing Max. He’s a great player.”
Kennedy was named No. 2 star … Evgeni Malkin extended his points streak to nine games with an assist on Kennedy’s goal … The Penguins out-shot the Flyers 26-22 … Neal’s points streak was halted at eight games … The Pens were 0-3 on the power play … Michalek and Simon Despres (an assist) were each a plus-2 … Pittsburgh has lost six of eight to Philadelphia since the start of 2010-11 … Robert Bortuzzo, Sidney Crosby, Deryk Engelland (suspension), Dustin Jeffrey, Kris Letang, Steve MacIntyre, Paul Martin, and Richard Park were scratches.
The Penguins (21-12-4) meet the Devils (20-15-1) at the Prudential Center for a matinee matchup on New Year’s Eve. The Pens beat New Jersey 4-1 at the CONSOL on October 22.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.