Jagr Impresses in Home Debut, Sestito Suspension Likely; Flyers-Rangers Game Notes

By David Strehle
ot Stove Managing Editor

There were more than a few skeptical voices raised when the Flyers signed right winger Jaromir Jagr as an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.  After all, not only does he turn 40 years old in February, he also hasn’t played in the National Hockey League for the past three seasons.

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

But Jagr hasn’t looked out of place one bit in the two pre-season games he has appeared in thus far.  In his first on Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, he scored a goal and added an assist and was named the game’s first star in a 3-1 Philadelphia victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

Monday night at Wells Fargo Center, Jagr was once again in fine form.  He scored two goals and assisted on another in garnering the star of the game honors again, as the Flyers won over the viviting New York Rangers, 5-3.  Yes, it is still just exhibition season, but two games and two games being named first star of the night is still a fantastic readjustment to North American hockey.

He has made a huge difference so far on what was a horrible Flyers power play last year, scoring both of his goals with the man advantage to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.

Center Danny Briere knew that Jagr would be very good, but he has been surprised at the level he is playing after his time in the KHL.  “It’s pretty cool,” Briere said of playing with Jagr.  ”I don’t think anyone expected him to come back and be as good as he has shown so far in camp.  It’s very exciting for everyone.  It’s exciting for me to have the chance to skate with him and to play with him.  You saw a couple of the plays he made tonight, which was just amazing.”

You don’t want to get too excited too quick,” cautioned Briere, since it is still the pre-season.  ”It’s not like he didn’t play, he played in a good league.  Maybe not the best league but very close in Russia.  You look at him and he is staying in shape and working really hard.  All those factors combined, I think that he is still a great player.”

Tonight was a little bit easier because we had a lot of power plays – some five-on-three, some four-on-three,” the 39-year-old Czech star said.

Jagr called center Claude Giroux ”a genius (with the puck)”, saying how much easier it is to play with someone so creative.  When asked if he reminded him of anyone he’s played with before, Jagr may have given Giroux a new, rather lofty nickname.  ”Little Mario Lemieux, just a little bit smaller,” Jagr laughed.

The two are developing a tremendous chemistry, and giving Philadelphia fans a reason to believe there won’t be a shortage of goals for the Flyers this year.

And he is making believers out of those who originally questioned Philly’s judgment.

Read Impresses Again

Matt Read took another solid step at making the opening night roster, scoring a goal and adding an assist in 21:34 of ice time.  Even more impressive was that he saw a lot of time on both special teams units, logging 4:11 on the power play, and 4:36 on the penalty kill.  Read played very well on the point and gave the Flyers something they haven’t possessed since defenseman Eric Desjardins retired – a legitimate right-handed shot from the point.

He was asked if he thought he had a chance of making the team and what he thinks of Laviolette using him in all aspects of the game.  “I don’t know if he trusts me or wants to see if I can make the best of it,  and see where I can be if I do make the team and what position I am,” Read said.  ”It’s good for me and a great opportunity.”

Read played on a line with Briere, and the 25-year-old rookie was beaming.  “He has great vision,” Read said of Briere.  ”He’s a great player to play with.  He’s always in the right spot.  He makes everything easier out there.  If he has the puck you know where to go.  And if you have the puck and you’re in trouble, you know exactly where he is and you just benefit from him.”

Briere was enamored with Read’s play, as well, and can see him growing as a player.  ”Definitely,” Briere said.  ”I think even himself too, he is feeling more and more comfortable.  He’s playing the right way, being on the good side of the puck.  Right now he is getting rewarded for it.  It is just good to see.”

Laviolette said that John Paddock brought it to his attention that they used Read in every situation (except for five-on-three), and commented on how impressed he was with the forward’s hockey sense.

There is no doubt that he “gets it”, and knows exactly what is expected of him by the coach.  ”I just go out there every shift and try to do the best I can and in a week or two, I’ll find out,” he said of his chances on making the club.  ”I’d love to be here,” he said.  

Unless something dramatically changes, he appears to be ready to be penciled in on the opening night roster sheet.

Simmonds Involved in Controversy Again

Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds had another very good game Monday night, playing physically and scoring his third goal of the pre-season – an empty-netter with 28 seconds remaining to lock up a Flyer victory.

After an unfortunate incident in London, Ontario last week, controversy again found Simmonds tonight.

Rangers super pest Sean Avery gets under everyone’s skin – fans and players alike – in every game and every situation.  He and Simmonds had a running feud all night, and Avery says that Simmonds sent a “homophobic slur” his way on the ice.  Avery was asked “if Simmonds had called him what we think he called you?”  Avery responded, “Well, yeah.”  

He was asked if he knew what happened to Simmonds last week.  ”Yeah, it is really disappointing,” Avery said.  ”First of all, who would do that?  And why would you do it?  It just such an unnecessary thing.  It’s something that’s not even an issue with us or our sport.”  But Avery then added, “So to be here now and having to answer your questions about what he did is disappointing for me.”

There was no denying the incident, as it was captured on video during the game.  You can clearly see Simmonds mouthing a word that begins with an “F”.

It was just from the scrum,” Simmonds explained.  ”I felt that he sucker punched me.  We were going back and forth for the rest of the game.  We both exchange words with each other.”

I can’t recall every single word that was said,” Simmonds said when asked what Avery said to him.  ”I am not here to say that he said this and I am not going to rat him out.  It doesn’t matter to me.  It was a hockey game and that’s what it is.”

Schenn Injured

Forward Brayden Schenn left the game after taking a hit in the second period and did not return.  Paul Holmgren addressed the media after the game to address the media on the injury.  

What we are thinking is upper body injury, not anything serious,” the GM said.  ”I would say probably questionable for the next game and we will see on the weekend.”

Sestito Likely Headed for Suspension

Tom Sestito had a huge opportunity put before him with the suspension of winger Jody Shelley.  But after a hit from behind tonight on Ranger forward Andre Deveaux, Sestito is almost certainly facing a suspension of his own when NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan reviews the hit, which brought a five-minute major and a game misconduct.

That’s exactly right, (he’s) trying to make the team and he got a little over zealous, and that’s unfortunate,” Holmgren said.  ”I haven’t heard anything yet, but I do expect an e-mail or a call or a text or something.“

Yeah, I saw him (Deveaux) go down,” Sestito said.  ”He was on the ice and we were in on the forecheck, and I was just getting there as fast as I could. 
I think he turned a little on me before I hit him.”

“It’s definitely not what I wanted to do, sit and watch when I’m supposed to be playing and showing them what I can do,” he continued.  ”But everything happens for a reason and I just have to bounce back and show them what I can do when I get the chance.”

Rinaldo Makes Another  Mark in Camp

As is the case with Sestito, the Shelley suspension may have opened a door for another feisty Flyer prospect known for fisticuffs.  On his way to the NHL level, forward Zac Rinaldo has been renowned as something of a loose cannon.

After pummelling Ranger winger Dale Weise in a first period bout, Rinaldo wanted it made clear that he’s much more than just a fighter.

I think over the years, the OHL and the first year in the AHL, I learned my lesson the hard way,” the 21-year-old winger said.  “People in the (Flyers) organization showed me video and said ‘This is what’s right’, ‘This is what’s wrong.”

After scoring a beautiful goal on Toronto Maple Leafs netminder James Reimer last week, Rinaldo has shown he has the offensive talent to do more than just scrap.  While Sestito is 6′ 5″, 228-pounds, Rinaldo made it a point to stress that at 5′ 10″, 180-pounds, he isn’t going to be going up against opponent’s heavyweights every night.

Rinaldo is more in the mold of a Dan Carcillo, and that would seem to be more of the role he will eventually assume.  An agitator who can score and drop the gloves when it is needed to change the momentum of a game.

It’s interesting to note that the Flyers trailed 1-0 last night when he pounded Weise, and Philadelphia was being outplayed up to that point.  Jagr netted a goal less than two minutes later.

Coincidence?  Maybe.  But the team got a noticeable lift after some spirited rough play, which was highlighted by Rinaldo’s lopsided win over Weise.

Bryzgalov Gets First Taste of Flyers-Rangers Rivalry

After making 17 saves on 20 shots , goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov had a fantastic quote as to the intensity and hatred that still abounds in one of professional sports greatest rivalries.

It seems like there’s going to be lots of murders,” the first-year Flyer chuckled.  “Make sure we have enough ambulances, huh?”

It’s probably safe to say that Bryzgalov didn’t experience anything that compares to this while in Phoenix over the last four seasons.

If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle