Penguins hope for home boost from Jaromir Jagr against Kings

By Thomson Reuters Feb 18, 2024 | 12:56 AM

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ game Sunday against the visiting Los Angeles Kings comes at the end of a celebratory weekend, but their reality hasn’t changed.

The Penguins, in an uphill struggle to get into the playoffs, are coming off a solid 4-1 win Thursday at Chicago. That came after a three-game losing streak.

“We had an urgency that we need to roll over into future games,” Pittsburgh defenseman Ryan Graves said.

The Penguins could have a different sort of motivation Sunday.

In an extended pregame ceremony, Pittsburgh will retire the No. 68 jersey of Jaromir Jagr and raise it to the rafters.

It’s been quite a weekend with Jagr, who played his first 11 seasons with the Penguins as the yin to Mario Lemieux’s yang and won two Stanley Cups en route to finishing his NHL career second only to Wayne Gretzky in points.

Jagr still plays occasional games for the team he owns in his hometown of Kladno in Czechia, and celebrated his 52nd birthday Thursday in Pittsburgh.

He held court with several former teammates at a public event Friday night, then got into full gear and did drills with the current Penguins at practice Saturday, also visiting and laughing with the players in the locker room.

Jagr told Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan that he didn’t want to be a distraction. Sullivan told him, “You’re actually an inspiration.”

Perhaps that and the win over the Blackhawks could send the Penguins on a run.

“People have been trying to write us off all year, and I think it’s been easy to do because of where we sit in the standings,” Graves said. “But if we can string a few (wins) together, we’re right back in the hunt. There’s no doubt in this group.”

The Kings, meanwhile, are holding onto a wild-card spot in the Western Conference but have struggled at times. They could be catching a groove.

They will be playing on back-to-back days. Saturday in Boston, they came from behind a couple of times to top the Bruins 5-4 in overtime. That left them 3-1-0 coming out of the bye/All-Star break, coinciding with interim coach Jim Hiller’s appointment.

“Just up and down the lineup, you’ve got to give credit to everybody,” Hiller said.

Other signs that Los Angeles might be heating up are that captain Anze Kopitar had one goal in 18 games but now has goals in back-to-back games, and that forward Viktor Arvidsson has been successful in a return to the lineup.

Arvidsson missed the first 50 games after offseason back surgery. He led the team with five shots and played 15:43 in his first game Thursday, a 2-1 win over New Jersey. Saturday, he played 18:52, had three shots and assisted on Kopitar’s late, tying goal in Boston.

His style hasn’t changed — chasing the puck with a vengeance and looking to shoot.

“That’s how I play,” Arvidsson said. “I’ve got to play that way.”

Hiller found out.

“He’s competitive. He’s fiery on the ice and on the bench,” the coach said. “He’s just one of those guys that hates to lose and loves to win.”

–Field Level Media