Those who have enjoyed the company of right winger Jaromir Jagr since he arrived in Philadelphia indicated that this future Hall of Famer never has been less comfortable than while he was surrounded by a handful of Pittsburgh reporters Wednesday after the Flyers practiced at Ice Castle in Castle Shannon.
Just wait until Jagr sees -- and hears -- the reception tonight from the 18,000-plus who will be at Consol Energy Center when the Penguins play host to the Flyers.
Asked what he expects from the crowd, Jagr shot back, "What kind of question is this? Everybody knows how I'm going to [be] received."
The beef goes back years. Penguins fans perceived sour grapes on the part of Jagr leading up to his trade to Washington almost a decade ago after winning five NHL scoring titles, one league MVP and two Stanley Cup titles with the Penguins, the club that drafted him out of the Czech Republic.
- Matchup: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV/Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky for Flyers; Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins.
- Penguins: Have won four games in row. ... Home penalty-kill (93.6 percent) among best in NHL. ... Jordan Staal ranked fourth with 21.5 shooting percentage before games Wednesday.
- Flyers: Have NHL's best road record, 13-5-5. ... Matt Read among rookie leaders with 21 points. ... Their 16.9 penalty minutes per game highest in league.
- Hidden stat: Penguins have gone 12 games without playing past regulation, since a 4-3 overtime victory Nov. 26 at Montreal.
While with Washington and the New York Rangers, Jagr was booed each time he touched the puck when he played in Pittsburgh. Things escalated when Jagr, 39, returned to the NHL after spending three seasons in Russia. He didn't respond to a $2 million offer from the Penguins this past summer and instead signed for $3.3 million with their bitter rival.
Jagr resorted to sarcasm when the subject turned to how he was affected by getting "the treatment" from Penguins fans in the past.
"I couldn't play," he said. "Please don't boo me."
Considering Jagr has been a boon to Philadelphia with 11 goals (five of them on the power play) and 30 points in 31 games, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin wants an assist tonight from the faithful.
"I hope the fans help us and Jagr will be nervous a little bit and doesn't score," Malkin cracked after the Penguins held practice at Southpointe in Canonsburg.
Jagr's first game at Consol Energy Center in Flyers orange is the biggest subplot tonight, but there are others.
The teams are tied for second place in the Atlantic Division with 46 points, and the Penguins will be looking to distance themselves from an off game in a 3-2 loss Dec. 8 at Philadelphia.
It also will be the first time forward Max Talbot has played at Consol Energy Center as a visitor. He was a fan favorite and Stanley Cup hero for the Penguins -- scoring both goals in a 2-1, Game 7 victory against Detroit in the 2009 final -- but when he became a free agent in the summer the Penguins could not match the Flyers' five-year offer worth $1.75 million per season.
"I always said how much I respected and loved my time in Pittsburgh and how special it was," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get a good reception, but you don't know."
Talbot remains on good terms with his former teammates, but as Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik pointed out, in terms of Jagr, "none of us ever played with him, so we leave that stuff to the fans and media."
Still, there is respect for Jagr and, in some quarters, there was a letdown when he didn't sign with the Penguins.
"What he's been able to do for the [Flyers] power play, what he's been able to do for [NHL leading scorer and linemate Claude] Giroux, has been pretty good," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
"Those are the kind of things we [envisioned] him doing for our team, with a Malkin and a [Sidney] Crosby. Am I surprised? Not really."
Malkin likewise expected Jagr's return to the NHL to be successful -- "He's always played great. He's strong, big, good hands," he said -- and hoped Jagr would sign with the Penguins during the summer negotiations saga.
When Malkin was 18 and playing with his hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he played some against Jagr, who spent most of the 2004-05 season with Omsk in the Russian Super League because the NHL's season was lost to a work stoppage.
"I was a little bit young," Malkin said. "I didn't play a lot. I sat on the bench and watched how Jagr played. He's an amazing player."
One whose talent probably won't be appreciated tonight by the home crowd.
"I think everyone expects a good atmosphere," Orpik said. "I think both teams' goal is to win the division, so I think that will build the game up enough for us."
Probably not for the fans, though.
"It's not the first time Jaromir Jagr is going to come into a building and not be liked," Bylsma said. "I'm sure he's going to expect it and hear it. But you hear players who hear the crowd and feed off it as well."
Jagr, who turns 40 in February, is not going into the game trying to prove anything to the fans.
"That would be the worst thing that could happen, if you wanted to show somebody that you still have it," he said. "[That] would show my ego. I don't want to prove anything to anybody. I don't think I would play my game if I wanted to show somebody."
Then, the sarcasm returned.
"Plus, I don't have it anymore."
First Published December 29, 2011 5:00 AM