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Odd Man Rush: Jagr providing short-term fix to long-term problem

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Updated: 11/22/2013 11:54 am

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Sometime in the near future, Jaromir Jagr will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Maybe on that day, the iconic building will finally get its hands on the stick Jagr used to score his huge goal on Thursday night.

The 41-year-old Jagr not only gave his New Jersey Devils a big victory with his overtime winner against the Los Angeles Kings, but he continued to add to his impressive resume. The tally was the 690th of Jagr's career, tying him with former teammate Mario Lemieux for ninth on the all-time goal-scoring list and while extending his own NHL record with his 18th career overtime marker.

Needless to say, Jagr is holding onto the lumber for now.

"I got to use it next game. It's a pretty good stick actually. It's pretty lucky with that stick," declared the veteran.

When you can join Lemieux on any kind of list, you've done something special, but how about that same goal also matching Gordie Howe, aka Mr. Hockey, for the top spot on the all-time list for game-winners with 121.

That is what Jagr accomplished when he scored 2:30 into overtime, taking a feed from Marek Zidlicky and outwaiting Kings goaltender Ben Scrivens by dragging the puck along the ice before roofing it into the net.

"I kind of got the pass from behind, so I didn't even see the goalie," Jagr said. "I didn't see the net ... That's the move; hold it, hold it, hold it. But you always put it top shelf. I'm not that good. That's the only thing that had a chance, just outpatient the goalie. That's how I put it in. But I didn't really see the net, to be honest with you."

Of course, no answer was complete without some trademark Jagr humor either.

"Z (Zidlicky) has to make better passes," he added with a smile.

And that is what Jagr has brought to the Devils this season, a veteran presence who has kept things loose while the club figures out how to improve its offense going forward.

New Jersey has seen the loss of both Zach Parise and David Clarkson the past few seasons through free agency, then took salt on the wound when Ilya Kovalchuk decided to retire from the NHL this past summer so he could return home to Russia and play in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Kovalchuk did so despite having signed a 15-year deal with the Devils as a free agent prior to the 2010-11 season.

In a painful twist for the Devils, that signing will also prevent them from restocking their offense with top-tier talent at the 2014 draft. New Jersey is forfeiting its pick as penalty from the original 17-year, $102 million deal it had signed Kovalchuk to, one that was ruled to have circumvented the league's salary cap.

Hence, it might not be the best of news than that Jagr is the one leading the Devils with nine goals and 18 points through 22 games or that the club's next two-leading scorers are Zidlicky, a 36-year-old defenseman, and 37-year-old forward Patrik Elias.

The Devils had hoped to help replace Kovalchuk with 31-year-old Ryane Clowe, a former 20-goal scorer with San Jose. But he has been limited to just one assist in six games this season due to a head injury after signing a five-year deal.

For general manager Lou Lamoriello, Jagr's surge is providing him a smokescreen for the problem. After all, the Devils have won three straight and five of their last six, putting them just two points back of the Washington Capitals for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Jagr has been a surprise producer on the ice, but it isn't a shock that he has been a big addition to the locker room as well.

"He's great," goaltender Cory Schneider said of Jagr. "I wasn't sure what to expect, but he has come in here and done nothing but work hard, set a great example. (He's) positive, just really builds guys up when they are having a tough time or sometimes you might be afraid to play with a guy like that, but he is the exact opposite. He just sort of makes you feel like a better player and he makes guys better around him."

Kudos to Lamoriello as those are encouraging words from a guy like Schneider, who is part of New Jersey's long-term plans. The 27-year-old was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks during the most recent draft for New Jersey's first- round pick, and though his 2-5-3 record in 10 starts may initially raise eyebrows, the Devils are more than happy with his 1.87 goals against average and .925 save percentage.

Those are better numbers than the guy he was brought in to eventually replace: another future Hall of Famer in 41-year-old Martin Brodeur. It just appears he has gotten the better luck than Schneider, going 7-3-2 with a solid 2.06 GAA and .915 save percentage.

So with goaltending not an issue, the question for the rest of this season is just how far Jagr can take the offense. It will certainly be higher up the all-time goal-scoring list.

Jagr is just two goals shy of matching Steve Yzerman for eighth place. Yzerman scored 692 goals in 1,514 career games, coming in just behind Mark Messier's 694 tallies in 1,756 games.

More of a long shot for Jagr is Mike Gartner, who sits sixth with 708 goals in 1,432 games.

(Oh, and by the way, Lemieux potted his 690 goals in just 915 games).

Jagr's surprise start has been a blessing so far for the Devils. But failure to add some young scoring in the near future will turn it into a curse.

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