Former stars dim lights
Penguins left winger James Neal wraps up former Penguins and current Flyers center Max Talbot on Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
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They booed. He scored.
They jeered. He soared.
They castigated. He celebrated.
Truth be told, the Consol Energy Center crowd's reaction to Jaromir Jagr's first game in Pittsburgh as a Philadelphia Flyers player was far less ferocious than expected. Closer to tepid than toxic, really.
And certainly less memorable than Jagr's response to returning to the city he spurned as a free agent in the offseason.
He played nearly 19 minutes Thursday night in the Flyers' 4-2 victory, scored the goal that put Philadelphia in front to stay and threw a total of seven shots toward the Penguins net, even though only two were on target.
Not surprisingly, Jagr, who had been almost morbidly subdued while speaking with reporters a day earlier, was decidedly more upbeat after the game.
"I probably had the most [scoring] chances of any game I played this season," he said. "I could have easily scored five goals if I were a good player.
"Fifteen years ago, I would score five. But not anymore. I needed 20 chances to score one. That's the difference [between] Jagr now and Jagr 15 years ago."
Well, there's at least one other: Back then, Jagr was adored by most of the fan base. That's not the case anymore, although his reception was no more hostile than it had been when he came back with Washington and the New York Rangers.
Former Penguins center Max Talbot, who received a warm ovation when a tribute video about him was shown on the arena scoreboard, had game to remember, too, punctuating the Flyers victory by scoring an empty-net goal with just under 25 seconds remaining in the third period.
The loss snapped the Penguins' four-game winning streak and dropped their record to 21-12-4. They are two points behind the Flyers and New York Rangers, who are tied for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Not coincidentally, the Penguins are 0-3 against those teams.
"I don't know if [that record] is a cause for concern, but we need to bear down and win those games," winger James Neal said. "Those are huge games. We know they're good hockey teams. The onus is on us. We have to play them harder."
Jordan Staal scored on the Penguins' first shot of the game, banking a puck off goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and into the net 44 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, most of the 25 shots they launched toward Bobrovsky after Staal scored were far less productive.
After Kimmo Timonen pulled the Flyers even on a power play at 9:56, Neal had a chance to put the Penguins back in front a couple of minutes later.
He could not, however, get his stick on a loose puck near an open net, whiffing when he tried to swipe the puck on the forehand, then having Jagr lift his stick as he swung at it on the backhand.
"You think about that one after, and wish you would have bore down a little more," Neal said. "Put that one in, and it's a different game."
Jagr called that sequence the "best play of my hockey career," and joked that he merits consideration for the Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's top defensive forward. The odds on him contending for that, of course, are slightly worse than those of the Penguins retiring his number someday.
Jagr made it 2-1 at 6:03 of the second, when he threw a backhander past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from near the right hash, and Matt Read swatted in a rebound at 16:11 to put the Flyers up by two.
There still was a period to go at that point but, in hindsight, the game had been lost in the second, when the Flyers dictated the pace and style of play for much of the time.
"We got too far away from our game in the second," Penguins forward Joe Vitale said. "Good effort in the third. We just dug ourselves too big of a hole."
Tyler Kennedy, who has a career-best five-game points streak, filled it in a bit at 13:31, beating Bobrovsky with a slap shot from near the top of the right circle for his fifth of the season and second in the past four games, but the only goal the rest of the way was Talbot's empty-netter with 24.9 seconds to play.
When it was over, the Penguins insisted that it was losing to a division rival, not having Jagr and Talbot get goals, that stung the most.
"We don't think too much about that kind of stuff," Vitale said. "We're more focused on the loss. It's never good losing to those guys."