Jaromir Jagr set for first return to Pittsburgh as Flyer

Posted: December 29, 2011

"He's a traitor and he spit in our faces."

- Post on a Penguins fan forum after Jaromir Jagr signed with the Flyers

PITTSBURGH - Jaromir Jagr helped Pittsburgh win two Stanley Cups, and he was the NHL's top scorer five times during his days with the Penguins.

None of that matters to most Penguins fans.

To them, he is Public Enemy No. 1, having spurned the club's $2 million offer last June after his agent had said Jagr's "heart is in Pittsburgh."

To make matters worse for Pittsburgh fans, he signed with the Penguins' cross-state rival, the Flyers. His one-year deal was for $3.3 million.

And so, yes, Jagr expects to be greeted with loud boos when the Penguins (21-11-4) host the Flyers (21-10-4) on Thursday night.

"Everybody knows how I'm going to be received," Jagr said after the Flyers practiced on Wednesday.

Even Dan Bylsma, the Penguins coach.

"It's not the first time Jaromir Jagr is going to come into a building and not be liked," he said, adding that some players "feed off of it."

Jagr was booed harshly whenever he touched the puck after he returned to Pittsburgh and played for the Capitals and Rangers.

Asked if the crowd reaction had affected him in the past, Jagr kidded with the Pittsburgh reporter.

"Yeah, I couldn't play," he said. "Please don't boo me."

Jagr has been outgoing and gregarious with reporters all season, but he seemed irritated during most of Wednesday's interview session. Clearly, he wants to play Thursday's game and move on.

Does he want to show Pittsburgh fans that, at almost 40, he still is a dangerous player?

"That would be the worst thing that could happen if you want to show somebody you still have it," he said. "I would show my ego, and I don't want to. I don't want to prove anything to anybody. I don't think I'd play my game if I was trying to show somebody."

He paused.

"Plus I don't have it anymore," he said, drawing laughs.

In 31 games, Jagr has 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists), placing him third on the Flyers. He spent the previous three years playing in Russia.

Bylsma said Jagr has done for the Flyers what he hoped Jagr would have done for the Penguins if they had signed him. He said he has been impressed with the work Jagr has done on the power play and elevating Claude Giroux's game.

"Those are the things we saw him doing with our team, with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby," Bylsma said.

Instead, he's doing it with Giroux and Scott Hartnell, each of whom have 17 goals.

"I hadn't seen him in three years, but I know when he left [the NHL] he was one of the best players in the league," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "And in my opinion, he still remains one of the best."

Laviolette downplayed the effects the fans will have Thursday as they "welcome" back Jagr and former Penguin Max Talbot.

"It is what it is," he said. "There's nothing you can do about it. . . . In saying that, we've lost a couple games in a row, and we need to make sure we're ready to play and win a game."

Crosby update. Crosby is participating in light exercises but remains sidelined indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms.

Bylsma said Wednesday that Crosby, who hasn't played since Dec. 5, is dealing with lingering symptoms and isn't sure when he'll return.

Breakaways. Talbot, who scored both goals to give Pittsburgh a 2-1, Game 7 win over Detroit in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, said he has been texting with some of his former teammates. "When the puck drops, and it's your first shift, you just think about your job," he said. "In the end, it's a hockey match and a big two points." . . . Backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (2.56 goals-against average) is expected to replace the struggling Ilya Bryzgalov (3.01) on Thursday. . . . Center Sean Couturier (head injury) is closer to returning to the lineup than defenseman Erik Gustafsson (wrist), general manager Paul Holmgren said. Couturier may play Thursday. . . . Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, out since Nov. 26 with a concussion, is making progress, but his return date is unknown. . . . Pittsburgh has won four straight.


Watch Jaromir Jagr talk about his return to Pittsburgh on Thursday with the Flyers.

philly.com/broadstreetbull


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi

at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

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