Gift giving is traditionally done at this time of year, whether you observe Christmas, Boxing Day, both, or not at all. Regardless of what you do, the appropriate reaction to any gift is to accept it. The whole point of why someone would give someone something would be to appreciate the item, which would, by extension, appreciate the giver. It's why it's just good manners to formally say "thank you" and even use the gift. It's all part of what makes this time of year the season of giving.
However, one can give at any time of the year for all kinds of purposes. We see it regularly in hockey games by many means. Passes to set up goals are among the most important and we've seen Jaromir Jagr do it more than anyone else on the New Jersey Devils this season. Jagr leads the team with twenty assists. Not all assists are necessarily passes or even intentional; but Jagr has dropped some serious dimes on the ice this season. Since today is Christmas, one of the biggest days of gift-giving in the world, it's only appropriate to highlight some of the very best passes he's had so far this season.
The First Actual Passing Assist: Jagr's first assist with the Devils this season was really more of a touch before a goal by Patrik Elias as opposed to an intended pass. His second assist was a secondary assist as he touched off a puck to Rostislav Olesz, who sprung Adam Henrique into space and beat Henrik Lundqvist off the wing. But the third assist of the season came on an actual pass. It wasn't fancy but it directly set up a goal by Michael Ryder. The assist was also Jagr's first of currently seven power play assists.
The First Assist off a Pivot: That assist would be the second in the first game of a five game point streak from October 19 through October 29. The October 23rd game in Columbus was a stinker for New Jersey. Yet, Jagr did show off something we have seen and grown to love this season: his puck control along the perimeter. His pass to Ryder for this power play goal was good, but notice how he pivots smoothly in the corner and draws two defenders in the process. As we know now, it would be a sign of things to come from Jagr this season:
The Secondary Assists That Were Actual Assists
Secondary assists can come from just touching the puck prior to the actual play that led to a goal. They're sometimes awarded more for just being there rather than being involved in the scoring effort. However, some of them are just as crucial as the primary assist. Jagr has several of those this season.
The Tic-Tac-Toe Against Vancouver: Jagr gained the zone and drew some attention before passing it across the zone to Andrei Loktionov. Loktionov also received attention, which allowed Elias to slip in through the middle and get in a great spot. Pass, shot, score and it began with Jagr's initial pass.
The Surprising Late PPG Winner in Boston: It's rare that the secondary assist was for a legitimate, intentional pass and the primary assist was really for a fortunate break, but that's what happened on the deciding goal in Boston. Jagr received the puck down low from Eric Gelinas and flung a great pass from the corner to Damien Brunner. Brunner whiffed but somehow got enough on the puck to have it go to Andy Greene to fire it in.
The Long Pass in Rangerstown: Dainius Zubrus pounded the game winner past Lundqvist off a block by Dan Girardi. But the whole 2-on-2 between Travis Zajac and Zubrus against Girdardi and Ryan McDonagh wouldn't have happened without a great pass in the neutral zone from Jagr. It created an opportunity that fortunately finished off Our Hated Rivals in their building.
Merrill's First Point: This could have been a primary assist, actually. Jagr maneuvered out of corner and found Merrill wide open at the center of the point. Merrill unleashed a shot that did get through. However, the getting through part was assisted by Zubrus. He got a touch on the shot, so Merrill's first NHL point was an assist and Jagr's assist became secondary. Again, a good pass as a secondary assist.
Simply Pretty Plays (and One Cheap Goal for Zubrus)
Of course, some assists are just really great looking passes or the end of a really good play by the player. Jagr's had a couple of these that are just fun to watch on their own.
Point #1701: Against Nashville on November 10, Jagr scored the game's first goal for his 1,700th career point. It didn't take long for the 1,701th to come. In the third period, Jagr helped get the puck into the neutral zone, retrieved a pass back into Nashville's end from Zubrus in transition, and slid a pass under the stick of Mattias Ekholm to Zajac. Zajac finished the play and it was an pretty big goal for him at the time. It was only his second of the season and he was scoreless in eight games. While the goal itself was simply pouring on more misery on Nashville, it was just a lovely pass with an even better finish.
A Rebound After a Lot of Strong Posting Down Low: One of Jagr's strengths is his how he pivots with his body when he has the puck. He doesn't just use his large frame (read: his butt) to shield the puck from defenders, but he does it in a way to find space. It's like a basketball player in the post; protecting the possession until an opening is found. One of the best examples of Jagr doing this came in Rangerstown on December 7. Marvel at how he just gets past Ryan McDonagh, one of the better defensemen in the NHL, and flings a shot on net coming out from behind the goal line. The puck was stopped but it became an assist when Zajac lifted it past Lundqvist.
The Goal Taken by Zubrus: While the Devils didn't win this game in Pittsburgh, one of the Devils' goals highlighted Jagr's pasttime of busting Zubrus' chops. And why not? He poached one of his goals. Zajac set up Jagr for a shot from the circle and it was about to trickle in off Marc-Andre Fleury. Zubrus just poked it in right at the line. I can respect what Zubrus did. I'd rather have him ensure there's a goal rather than assume it and have the puck get cleared away. Still, it's fun to laugh about - I think Zubrus may still bug Jagr about it.
A More Legitimate Assist to Zubrus: Jagr set up Zubrus for two goals against Tampa Bay on December 14. The second one was more of a bounce that squeaked in between the post and the goalie. The first was clean as clean could be. Jagr dumped it in, Zubrus knocked the puck away, Jagr collected it as Zubrus moved to in front of the net, and Jagr saw Zubrus open in position. Pass, shot, score, and fans like me wanting to see more plays like that more often.
The Best Looking Assist by Jagr As a Devil So Far: I think this is the best looking assist by Jagr to date. Might as well save it for last. It was an actual pass, a legitimate assist in every sense of the word. It was an important pass as it led to a game-tying goal late in the third. It was a difficult pass to make as Jagr had to thread the puck not only between defenders but to a teammate crashing the net. If that wasn't enough, Jagr did it with a backhander while about to curl around the corner. This was Jagr to Greene to tie it up against Anaheim and it was simply a gorgeous pass.
Overall, Jagr has been simply great for the Devils. He's not just the team's leading scorer but the team's leading assister, or the leading giver. Some are definitely greater than others, but all were gifts that his teammates put to full use. Hopefully, there will be more of that after Christmas and all the way through Spring 2014.
In the meantime, let's talk about these assists. Which one of these helpers did you like the most? Were there any I missed that would rank right up there as an impressive assist by Jagr? What about assists not by Jagr; do any of those from other Devils (e.g. Elias) stand out in your mind? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Jagr's assists and assists in general by the Devils in the comments. Thank you for reading. On the behalf of everyone at In Lou We Trust please have an blessed Christmas, a blast of a Boxing Day, and/or an enjoyable whatever else you do until the next game, which is on Friday.