Flyers’ Jagr, Talbot At Forefront of Tonight’s Clash in Pittsburgh

By David Strehle
ot Stove Managing Editor

The old saying “You can never go home again” may just apply to Philadelphia Flyers’ forwards Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot as the team heads to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins tonight at CONSOL Energy Center.

Both Jagr and Talbot have experienced the biggest successes in their respective NHL careers in the ‘Burgh, each having been a part of a Stanley Cup championship Pens squad. The pair were key pieces in all three Penguins’ Cup victories over two different generations — – Jagr in both 1991 and 1992, and Talbot in 2009 — but both will likely feel the unbridled wrath of the Pittsburgh faithful, beginning when they come out to take part in the pre-game skate.

Al Bello / Getty Images

Jagr had actually been courted by GM Ray Shero and the Pens early in the summer, and a possible return to the scene of his greatest triumphs seemed all but a foregone conclusion for the future first ballot Hall-of-Famer, who had spent the past three seasons playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

After both Jagr and Talbot signed with the Flyers as unrestricted free agents on July 1st, outraged Penguins’ fans voiced their obvious displeasure all across every social media platform available over what they felt were acts of traitors.

When I was making the decision, I never thought that Pittsburgh fans would want me back,” Jagr said in a September conference call with the media. ”Every time I played there, they were booing me every time I touched the puck. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal that I didn’t sign with Pittsburgh.”

The connection to the Penguins is not nearly as fresh for Jagr as it is for Talbot, who played in Pittsburgh through last season. Jagr last played for the Pens more than a decade ago, with the 2000-01 campaign being his last with the organization. His status as the second best player ever to don the Black-and-Gold is still intact, as he is still the runner-up in every significant offensive category to the undisputed greatest Penguin of them all, Mario Lemieux.

As stated above in his own words, Jagr has heard the boos before, when he returned to the Civic / Mellon Arena as a member of the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. He is expecting much of the same in his first visit to the CONSOL Energy Center, especially wearing the colors of one of Pittsburgh’s most hated rivals.

In fact, it’s likely going to sound a lot like when playing the Chexx dome hockey arcade game, when your opponent hits the ‘boo’ button. It’s pretty much the same noise as anytime a Canadiens’ player falls to the ice at Bell Centre, or each time a visiting captain touches the puck at MTS Centre in Winnipeg. Just imagine that sound magnified 18,600 times, each and every time Jagr or Talbot touch the puck. That’s probably a pretty fair assessment of how tonight will be in Pittsburgh.

Jagr has been an important cog in the Philadelphia offensive machine this season, anchoring the right side of a line with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. With 11 goals and 30 points in 31 games, the 39-year-old Jagr is still averaging nearly a point per game. He may have lost some of his explosiveness, but he is always a threat to score when on the ice.

At the tail end of Jagr’s September conference call, he tried to soften the blow for those hockey diehards who live on the western side of Pennsylvania.

I had a chance to do what I thought was best for me. If I hurt anybody, I apologize, because I didn’t want to, but on the other side, I just don’t understand why people can be that mad about my decision.”

It’s a fairly safe assumption to say that Pens’ fans will attempt to make Jagr see their reasoning, and in an extremely vocal manner, tonight in Pittsburgh.

Even though he didn’t play nearly the all-encompassing role with the team as Jagr had during his time there, the very fact that Talbot inked a pact with the Penguins’ cross-state rivals still wreaked of treachery in Steel Town.

Photo credit: Paul Bereswill / Getty Images

The agitator had shifted momentum in meetings with Philadelphia in Pittsburgh’s favor through the years, none as evident as his fight with Dan Carcillo during Game 6 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. On the ensuing faceoff after Danny Briere scored to give the Orange-and-Black a commanding 3-0 lead and a Game 7 began to appear on the horizon, Talbot challenged Carcillo to a fight. “Mad Max” was beaten badly, but gave the half-delirious Philly fans the now infamous ”Shhhh” with index finger raised to his lips on the way to the penalty box. Ex-Flyer Ruslan Fedetenko scored just 14 seconds later, and the ice tilted in Pittsburgh’s favor the rest of the way en route to a 5-3, series clinching victory.

The Pens went on to win the Stanley Cup less than two months later.

That’s the type of player Talbot has been, one who will do anything to help his team win, and that endeared him all the more to Penguins’ fans.

Talbot has brought some of the grit and veteran presence that was lost in making the forwards corp a much younger group. He adds some of what had been missing since winger Ian Laperriere was lost with a skull fracture and severe concussion.

He has also thrown in some unexpected offense, having already surpassed his entire 2010-11 goal total – nine this year in 35 games, eight in 82 contests last year. On a club that came into the season with many question marks as to where the goals would come from after trading away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the importance of this kind of production cannot be stressed enough. 

Even though he had left, nothing could prepare supporters of the Pens for what Talbot said shortly after becoming a Flyer.

It’s nice to be on the right side this time,” Talbot said via Flyers On The Fly on the club’s official site, regarding the ongoing bitter rivalry in the affectionately monikered ”Keystone Klash”. That’s right, apparently he now bleeds Orange-and-Black, also.

And don’t think for a second that the CONSOL Energy crowd will forget that, either.

Some have said the reason Pittsburgh is spelled with an “h” at the end is because it stands for ”home”. For Jagr and Talbot, two players who called Pittsburgh their home for so long, we shall see if that, indeed, holds true tonight.

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