The Montreal Canadiens looked like they were going to run away with the Atlantic Division early in their season. They were rolling to start the year, and looked like they’d run away with the NHL standings. Then Carey Price got hurt.
Experts were talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings as the teams that could have a conceivable shot at catching the Canadiens. The Florida Panthers were decent, but not good enough to be the team to beat just yet. It turns out the people betting against this team were wrong.
One key component to this team has been the leadership of Jaromir Jagr. Not only is the 43-year-old winger leading this team in points with 25, he is doing it while playing a completely different style than he did during his original mullet days. Being able to have Jagr play first line minutes allows the Panthers’ second line to be one of the most dynamic in the division. Keeping Reilly Smith on that line helps the team immensely. He leads the team in goals with 11, and seems to fit perfectly with Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen.
Of course Roberto Luongo needs a lot of credit for how well the Panthers have played, but without Jagr this team could be fighting for a playoff spot rather than fighting for the division lead. Understood that’s the difference of just a few points, but the confidence is different when you’re in the Panthers’ position.
Jagr’s quintessential moment of the season was back on December 23, when he took a stick to the face while playing the Ottawa Senators. Alex Chiasson hit him in the face, knocking out his teeth. Not only was Jagr hurt, the referees didn’t even call it a penalty. Instead of losing his mind, Jagr skated to the bench, patted Chiasson on the head, and eventually returned to the game. He came back to assist on the Panthers only goal in a 2-1 shootout win.
Jagr loves the game. He wants to play hockey forever. As long as he can lead teams like he is leading the Panthers, his career is far from over. At this rate, Jagr and the Panthers will easily make the playoffs. It will be the first time Jagr has seen postseason play since a disappointing performance in 2013. It seems like it was a decade ago, but he’s only scored one playoff goal since returning from the KHL. Jagr would love to have one more iconic postseason, and the way he is performing it looks like it will be this coming year.
The Canadiens will eventually get Price back, and they will turn around this bad stretch. That is why it is so crucial the Panthers took advantage of this opportunity.