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Jagr vs. Lemieux? No Competition There, Jaromir Says

January 5, 1996

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The Pittsburgh Penguins head into tonight’s game with the Detroit Red Wings atop the Northeast Division thanks to the NHL’s most potent 1-2 scoring combination.

Mario Lemieux has 87 points in his 33 games, and Jaromir Jagr is second with 81 points in 38 games. Jagr has one more goal than Lemieux after scoring his 35th in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Ottawa.

The goal he scored deserves to be on any highlight reel along with some of the spectacular goals Lemieux has scored in his career. Jagr drove to the net and got ahead of an Ottawa defenseman. As he skated toward the right side of the net, he was sandwiched by Senators Troy Mallette and Antti Tormanen.

Despite being pinned face down on the ice, Jagr reached out and put the puck in off the leg pads of goalie Don Beaupre. The goal gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead and deflated Ottawa’s comeback hopes.

``It wasn’t a pretty goal at all,″ Jagr said.

It was important, though, because it showed Jagr’s development. In his earlier days, he would pout if a scoring chance didn’t succeed. Jagr has changed, thanks to the example set by some of the Penguins’ more experienced players.

``In my first years, I would never do that,″ Jagr said. ``I learned from guys like Joey Mullen. They would never quit on the play, and that’s what I was trying to do.″

Jagr and Lemieux both downplay their competition for the scoring title.

``I don’t even think about that,″ Jagr said. ``I just try to do my best for the team. I know that Mario is the best player.″

Jagr may have a chance to make up the gap. Lemieux is going through a midseason malaise and has been complaining for more than a week that his energy level isn’t what it was earlier in the season.

Lemieux sat out a New Year’s Day game at Washington. The Penguins said the absence was due to the flu, but it had as much to do with Lemieux’s fatigue.

Jagr seems to be tireless. He’s one of the Penguins’ strongest players, and he can consistently fight off checkers. The best example of that was the goal he scored against Ottawa.

``We did everything within the rules to stop him,″ Beaupre said. ``He just never quit. You’ve got to give him credit.″

Jagr doesn’t have Lemieux’s playmaking ability or his reach. He does have a great knack for scoring goals and the ability to use his strength to force his way past defenders.

The players have one thing in common: they’re both in the starting lineup for the Eastern Conference in the Jan. 20 All-Star game. Jagr was the top vote-getter with 562,961 and Lemieux was second at 485,926. Jagr will start for the fourth consecutive year and Lemieux is in the lineup for the seventh time.

After the Senators failed to stop Jagr on the ice, they tried to trip him up on a technicality. They challenged the curve of his stick, which failed referee Dennis LaRue’s measurement. Jagr was given a minor penalty that didn’t matter because the Penguins were already leading 4-0.

Many opponents suspect that Jagr’s stick blades are curved more than the rules allow. Most of the challenges have come from teams coached by Pierre Maguire, a former Penguins assistant who worked for Hartford and now is on Ottawa’s staff.

``He did that in Hartford and I came out of the penalty box and scored the winning goal,″ Jagr said. ``After the game, I told him I had one more stick there if he wanted to call that again.″

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