Jaromir Jagr made history on March 1, 2014. He became the seventh player in NHL history to score at least 700 goals in the regular season. He did it with a score that would hold up as the game winner in a 6-1 blow out of the New York Islanders. He reached this rare milestone with the New Jersey Devils. The very least I could do is give it special attention.
I will begin another Jagr-centric post with a repeat of a mea cupla. I had my doubts about the Devils signing Jagr last summer. I thought it was a quick response to a certain player going to the KHL. I didn't expect a forward turning 42 to be a significant producer of points. In fact, I wasn't expecting much at all. Yet, look at him now. He's currently the team's leading scorer with 19 goals, the team's leading shooter with 159 shots, and the team's top possession player at 5-on-5. He's the team's top offensive player. Instead of wondering whether he'll get ten goals, I'm now wondering whether he can catch Mike Gartner's total of 708 goals this season. Honestly, I think he can; though it's a long shot to get eight goals in the next twenty one games. I'm not going to bet against him at this point. Not after hitting the 700 mark.
The goal itself has the same mix that comes with a lot of goals scored. Players on the successful team making good decisions, players on the failing team making less than ideal decisions, and some luck going in favor of the shooter and/or attacking team. This goal stands out in other ways. For one, Jagr did all of the work on the puck. No other Devil touches it in this breakdown. This isn't to say they weren't involved, just that the puck stayed in Jagr's control. For another, he commanded a lot of attention from the Islanders around him. Jagr may be 42, but the fact he had as many eyeballs on him as he did speaks to how threatening he can be on offense. The Isles players weren't wrong to focus on Jagr; though they were wrong in what they decided to do. With that all said, let's get right to the breakdown of Jaromir Jagr's 700th career regular season goal.
This video comes from NHL.com. All pictures were taken from here with poorly drawn lines and text added by me.
The On-Ice Situation
The game was 1-0 in favor of the Devils early in the second period. The following play happened at even strength, a 5-on-5 situation. According to the play by play log at NHL.com, the following players were on the ice for both teams.
We begin with Jagr in a familiar spot: with the puck along the side boards. He collects the puck and is about to turn around to look at the situation. I've identified everyone on the ice. Note how all five Islanders are in their own end of the rink, seemingly ready to defend.
The thin orange lines are there to highlight what the Islanders players are looking at. They're all on Jagr. They're moving elsewhere, as indicated by the thicker lines. Nelson, MacDonald, and Strait are going to move deeper into the zone. Vanek is going to head towards the slot. Okposo is watching him from above the circle. At this point, the Isles look good here. There's no real space for Jagr to go. Zajac is open in the corner but he can do little from there. Zubrus in the middle of it all, but also would have nowhere to go. Greene is wide open at the left point but there isn't a passing lane. Okposo can dissuade Jagr from going to the right point.
Fortunately for the Devils, when Jagr turns around, the Isles have given him room to work with - literally.
Look at the space! Zajac has dropped out of frame and he's behind the net. Because four Islanders backed off to other locations, Jagr can see what he can do. Vanek's dropping back but his positioning denies a potentially lethal pass to Greene. Zubrus could go nowhere even if he gets it. Much is made about a playmaker being someone who creates plays. It's essentially code for being a passer. A proper playmaker on offense is all about making good offensive decisions. That includes when to take initiative and take matters into your own hands. Jagr has space right in front of him, so he's going to do just that.
By the way, in this shot, Nelson is about to fall down. He's the only Islander skater who doesn't have his eyes on #68 in this picture. This will matter to a degree.
In addition to Nelson falling down, Okposo hesitates and backs off a bit. However, Jagr doesn't even look to the right point. If Fayne's even there to receive the puck, Jagr doesn't acknowledge it. Okposo backed off thinking Jagr would move himself or the puck along the boards instead of curling inside. That's the best reasoning I can come up with for his stutter-step. Either that or Okposo was unaware. At least he's got Jagr in his sights - like everyone else except for the fallen Nelson.
With Nelson down, Jagr could fire the puck around the boards or, depending on MacDonald, directly to Zajac. He even has a passing lane right to Greene in this moment in time. But with no defenders above the dot near him and Vanek dropped to the slot, he's going to just skate ahead. Why not? Who's going to stop him? Nelson can't press up and the defensemen have considerable ground to make up.
If Okposo's hesitation was the first break on this play, then Zubrus colliding with Strait is the second. The two just had their legs tangled up. Strait falls down immediately. Zubrus is off-balance here, but he's going to hit the ice soon enough. This is actually a big deal because it'll prevent Strait from closing off Jagr. He sees Jagr heading towards the slot. But he's not in a good position to do anything about it.
Strait does have help in theory. Okposo is giving chase and could get to him. Vanek is in the slot and could do something about this. Meanwhile, Nelson's now upright and will try to get involved, while Zajac and MacDonald tussle in front of Nabokov.
Strait decides to lunge and get his stick out as long as he could. Okposo attempts a stickcheck. Jagr dodges Strait's desparate attempt, while powering through Okposo. Okposo is definitely a physically strong player. But he's not going to deny a physically strong Jagr with a one-handed out-stretched stick. He doesn't here. With MacDonald still battling in front and Nelson still out of the play, this doesn't look good for the Isles. Nelson will try to catch up; skating through the space between the fallen Zubrus and Strait.
Fortunately for the Isles, Vanek is in a great position to step up and defend against Jagr. He's in the slot, Jagr is heading towards the slot, and he's got no other options. Vanek will step up, right? Right?
No. If there's any Islander I would blame for this goal more than any other skater, then it's Vanek. He just holds position and lets Jagr come to him. Instead of trying to go up to him after the puck or even his body, he just hangs back. That's a big mistake and it helped cost the Isles.
In any case, Strait's beaten, Okposo is still trying, and Nelson is going to at least make an attempt to help out Vanek.
I will say that Nelson makes a good effort. He stepped up, he got his stick out, and he's got his eye on the puck. Vanek has his stick out, but watch his skates. He still hasn't left the ring of the left circle. All he had to do was take a few steps towards Jagr. Nope. Okposo is now trying to deny Jagr's stick again. Having two hands on his own stick helps, but look at his body's position. He's behind Jagr, trying to reach across his body to do so. Jagr can and does power through an attempted stick-lift.
Incidentally, this is the first picture where more Islanders are not focused on Jagr in this breakdown. So far, three to five skaters were looking at Jagr directly. In this shot, Nelson, Okposo, and Vanek have shifted their attention to the puck, just to get it away from Jagr. MacDonald has his head up at Jagr, now disengaged from Zajac. He's concerned about a shot coming in. He's right to do so.
Jagr basically has no other option at this point. He can't pass it forward. Zajac and Zubrus aren't open. He can't really pass it directly to Greene. He certainly can't leave it behind him. He could chip the puck towards the left corner or side boards.
But he's Jaromir Jagr. A powerful winger who plays with a swagger. He's going to shoot it. As our English fans would say, he's having a go. Amazingly, he'll be able to do so. As he's about to release the shot, the three Islanders right around him miss the puck. Nelson's stick is in front of Jagr's left skate. Okposo's stick isn't near Jagr's stick blade. Vanek's stick is behind the puck and stick. It's certainly not an ideal shot to take, just look at the behind-the-net camera to see how much traffic is in the way.
Do you see a shooting lane there? I don't. Yet, Jagr has no other option. So I fully understand why he's doing what he's doing. Fortunately, this shot will get through. It's hard to believe but that's exactly what happened.
The puck remained on the ice as Jagr shot it. It wasn't a fast shot. It didn't take a bunch of deflections. I wonder whether Okposo at least affected the shot taken. But it's a good thing it went forward and flat on the ice. It was able to glide past Zubrus - who thankfully got up in time - and head towards MacDonald and Zajac. I think Jagr did intend to shoot towards the left post. Nabokov was essentially blocked out of that side and was trying to look around his left. So Jagr tried to catch him on the far side.
With a little help from MacDonald's right skate, Jagr's no-other-option shooting attempt became a goal. It gave the Devils a little more breathing room on the scoreboard. It was another milestone in a long and legendary career in hockey. And as you saw in the video, he celebrated it like it was just another tally for a man who knows how to make them happen.
Conclusions & Your Take
What's I found remarkable about this play when I took all of the screen shots was how the Islanders were aware of Jagr but weren't able to do anything about it. From the beginning, all eyes were on Jagr. Until he was about to shoot it, he wasn't in danger of losing the puck. Even then, three Islanders around him missed getting the puck and/or denying the shot. Consider what happened that helped Jagr move to the slot with the puck. Okposo's hesitation put him in a bad spot he never fully recovered from. An accidental collision prevented Strait from making a play on the puck, though he tried. Vanek dropping into the slot, then next to it, but then never stepping up to do anything. Nelson falling down earlier and catching up late only to miss poking at the puck. In this situation, the Isles didn't need to do anything fancy. They just had to get the puck away from Jagr. Whether that's by a stick lift, a poke check, a stick check, a body check, or just skating into him doesn't matter. Jagr had one way to go and he still went there.
This play definitely doesn't reflect well on all involved. I'd offer exceptions. Nelson just fell down on his own and tried to make a play. Strait was taken out by accident and still tried to make a play. Okposo didn't give up on the play, though he put himself behind. MacDonald had his man in front. (Zajac was smart to stay in front and help Nabokov stick to one side.) Because life isn't fair, he's the one who inadvertently made the attempted shot into a goal against. The only Islander who really sticked out like a sore thumb is Vanek, who was in a great position to do anything to deny Jagr a chance to do anything but never left his spot. I favor effort over a lack of it. Nevertheless, the team failed despite having five skaters seemingly surround Jagr when he first had the puck along the boards. Again, it's not like they didn't know he had it.
This certainly wasn't the prettiest goal scored. As much as Jagr did, the puck still had to re-direct just right off MacDonald's skate and past Nabokov's right toe. At the same time, I think this goal is perfectly representative of Jagr. He's experienced enough to know to take what the defense is giving him, which is what he did on this play. He's skilled enough on the puck to maintain control with sticks being flung at him as he headed into the slot. He's strong enough to power through stick checks and lifts. He's confident enough to skate into a spot where he will meet multiple defenders and still try to get a shot off or attempt a killer pass. He's simply good enough to command the attention of so many opposition players and still find a way to do what he wants to do. All of these traits helped him get to 700 goals. They will help him as he (hopefully) scores more goals for the New Jersey Devils this season.
So now I turn to you for your take on the breakdown of this milestone for Jagr. What was your favorite part of the play? Which Islander do you think made the biggest error? Were you surprised to see how many things went right for Jagr to get to the slot, much less score from there? How did you react when Jagr headed towards the slot? (I honestly didn't expect a goal.) How about when it went in? Do you think Jagr will catch Gartner this season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this historic goal in the comments. Thank you for reading.