Practice could make Jagr, Lindros perfect
After many strange moves, Glen Sather finally made a good one: pairing Jaromir Jagr with Eric Lindros.
Glen Sather has made several strange moves during his unsuccessful tenure as general manager and coach of the New York Rangers.
But Sather -- desperate to end a six-year playoff drought (three years on his watch) -- isn't messing around with the latest millionaire to skate into his locker room. On Monday, Sather placed Jaromir Jagr exactly where he belongs: on the right side of center Eric Lindros. The move resulted in a 5-2 win over the defenseless Panthers at Madison Square Garden,
In Jagr's first game as a Ranger, the now infamous 9-1 drubbing in Ottawa, Sather slotted No. 68 on a line centered by former Penguins teammate Petr Nedved. Sather's initial rationale was simple: the two Czechs had enjoyed success playing together in Pittsburgh.
But that was then.
Now, in New York, the best way to use Jagr is to play him with the team's best center. To Sather's credit, he didn't waste any more time making the connection.
"There were definitely some sparks," said Lindros, when asked about the chemistry with his new linemate. "I don't think we were on, on. But it was a good feeling out there."
That good feeling resulted in a three-point night for Jagr in his home-ice debut and a much-needed win for the struggling Rangers. Jagr, all smiles after being named the game's first star, seemed to like the idea of playing with Lindros.
"He's another big guy and he likes to play in the corners like me," said Jagr, who admitted to being a little scared about his first game as a Ranger in New York. "He's a great player and he creates a lot of room."
With Lindros having rediscovered his form in recent months and Jagr looking to put the shine back on his career, this seems to be the perfect time for these two big names to come together.
"I think this a great opportunity for both of them," said Rangers captain Mark Messier. "It's a great opportunity to (perform to their capabilities) on the biggest stage in the world. And I think it's a great opportunity to do it when the team and the organization have struggled and to be a big part of turning things around.
"At any given time over the last 10 years, either one of them were being spoken about as being the best players in the world. If you look at their ages, they should really be at the peaks of their careers."
Rangers left winger Chris Simon, who played with Jagr for a little more than a year in Washington, spent a good deal of time on a line with Lindros this season, with Matthew Barnaby on the other side. Simon thinks this will be a perfect match for both high-profile players. "Eric is so strong and he's really come into his own in the last month," said Simon, who was moved onto a checking line with center Bobby Holik and right winger Jamie Lundmark as part of the shakeup. "He's been our best player. His physical play is going to open up ice for Jags. And with Jags' skill and puck-moving ability, it will give Eric room, too."
Simon also said it's important for Jagr to get comfortable with his new center, which is one of the reasons why things didn't work out for Jagr in Washington.
"For whatever reason, he and Adam Oates just didn't jell together," Simon said. "The trade [from Pittsburgh] was tough on him, then the press seemed to get on him about a lot of negative stuff."
Despite the tough times in Washington, Simon was quick to recommend Jagr to Sather.
"When I signed here this summer, Glen asked me about him and I told him he's a great guy," said Simon, confirming Sather's long-standing interest in acquiring Jagr. "I really think this a great fit for Jags. We've got a lot of guys who can play at his level. For whatever reason, it just didn't work out in Washington for him. But it wasn't because he didn't work hard or he didn't care."
Lindros thinks hard work and repetition will be the key elements in making the new line, which includes left wing Martin Rucinsky, a big hit on Broadway.
"It works the same way with every line on every team," said Lindros, who assisted on Jagr's first goal as a Ranger. "The more you get to play with people, the better off you're going to be. You're going to figure out strengths in certain situations and you're going to figure out how to minimize or not expose weaknesses.
"I think both guys being left-handed shots, we're probably going to work one side a little bit more than the other. It's just practicing with the same guys and giving it chance, not flipping the switch here and there. We have to practice. We have to work on it. We have to follow through on what we practice and we have to talk about things from period to period."
For the first three periods, at least, the Lindros-Jagr combo seemed to work just fine. Their boss, like everyone else, was impressed.
"Eric has been playing well," Sather said. "He's full of enthusiasm now. He's been like that for the last two months."
And, how about Jagr's performance on Monday?
Said Sather, smiling: "It's as well as I've seen him play."
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