NEWARK, N.J. – Jaromir Jagr has hit so many NHL milestones this season for the New Jersey Devils that he is starting to downplay them.
Jagr tied another one on Friday night, setting up two goals to match former teammate Mario Lemieux for 10th on the NHL’s career assists in a 2-1 win that sent the Washington Capitals to their seventh straight loss.
Jagr’s response to the achievement was expected.
“I don’t know,” the remarkable 41-year-old Czech said. “I don’t pay attention.”
Jagr is having a season that makes it hard not to pay attention. Besides being the Devils leading scorer (16 goals, 26 assists), he has replaced Gordie Howe as the NHL’s all-time leader in game-winning goals (122), moved past Mark Messier for seventh place all-time in goals (697) and now tied Lemieux with 1,033 assists, seven behind Marcel Dionne.
Jagr was able to joke about the assists, noting: “I’m a great goal scorer.”
He was not thrilled about the game, which was the Devils’ final one before Sunday’s outdoor game at Yankee Stadium against the Rangers.
“We didn’t play well,” Jagr said. “We’re lucky we got two points. They are struggling and we didn’t score when we had the chance. We didn’t play very well and it almost cost us a game.”
Stephen Gionta and Adam Henrique scored for New Jersey and Cory Schneider continue his stellar play in net, stopping 30 shots to give New Jersey its second straight win and points in eight of nine games.
Jason Chimera scored for the Capitals, whose seven-game slide is their longest since late 2010. This was the second game they played without All-Star Alex Ovechkin, out with a lower-body injury.
“I thought we had them on their heels,” Schneider said. “They are a good team and they need points so they came out hard. They have some skill players, even without Ovechkin.”
Washington, which was starting a season-high five game road trip, has now lost 13 of 16, and it has scored eight goals during the current losing streak.
The Devils, who had their biggest goal output since 2010 in a 7-1 win over St. Louis on Tuesday, didn’t wait long to take the lead against Washington.
Capitals defenceman Dmitry Orlov had a puck bounce over his stick in the Devils’ zone and Gionta pushed the puck to Jagr, who returned it to him. The centre skated the puck into the Washington zone and beat goaltender Michal Neuvirth with a shot from the right circle that somehow squirted through a crease between his elbow and body.
Jagr’s other assist was marvelous. With the Devils on a power play, they skated the puck up the ice with a string of passes. Jagr took the next to last one from Travis Zajac to the left of Neuvirth and sent a quick cross-crease pass to Henrique for a slam dunk into an empty net.
“Once Jags got it, I tried to back off and give myself a little room if the puck bounced,” Henrique said. “It was a great play by him. Merry Christmas!”
Schneider, who came into the game with a 0.96 goals against average in his last five starts, didn’t let the Capitals on the board until Chimera deflected a point shot by John Erskine into the net midway through the final period.
Washington had its chances before that. Schneider stopped a short-handed breakaway by Jay Beagle in the second period and Brooks Laich had a shot later in the session hit off the goalpost.
“We had three short-handed breakaways and we didn’t score,” Washington coach Adam Oates said. “He held them in and made the saves when he needed to. We made saves, too. You need execution, and the mistakes are not blatant, but, no mistakes, it’s still the NHL, and you get burned.”
Neuvirth was almost as good as Schneider. He finished with 28 saves and was outstanding during the Devils’ five power plays.
NOTES: Gionta’s third tally of the season ended a 13-game goal drought. …Washington is 1-of-24 on the power play in the last eight games. …Chimera played his 300th game for the Capitals.