NEWARK, N.J. — While he thoroughly enjoyed the Olympics in Sochi, Jaromir Jagr of the New Jersey Devils and the Czech Republic left the Winter Games without a medal.
One bad game against the United States ended those hopes. The recently turned 42-year-old forward has other aspirations though, such as getting the Devils into the NHL playoffs over the next six weeks.
Jagr and fellow Olympians Patrik Elias, Marek Zidlicky and Damien Brunner returned to practice Monday as the Devils held their first full workout since the Olympic break more than two weeks ago.
New Jersey enters the homestretch three points out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with 23 games left in the regular season. Plays resumes Thursday night against Columbus, a team ahead of it in the standings.
Jagr doesn’t think the Devils need much to get back to the post-season after missing two of the previous three seasons.
"What we need to do is score the one extra goal a game," Jagr said Monday. "We need to keep the same defence we played. The goaltenders have been awesome. We have to find the one extra, extra goal in the game. That would make a huge difference."
The Devils’ 135 goals this season is the second-fewest total in the league, and the problem has been compounded by the team’s ineptitude in the shootout. It has lost all eight shootouts and 12 straight dating to last season.
"If you look at all the games we played, one goal is the difference," Jagr said.
Coach Pete DeBoer spent time Monday working on getting the puck up the ice quickly and getting shots on goal. However, he doesn’t want offence at the price of defence.
When the team reported, DeBoer had them watch videotape of Canada’s defensive play in winning the gold medal.
"They were the best team in the tournament," DeBoer said. "They were a lot like we want to play. They were defensively responsible. They didn’t give up anything defensively over the last two or three games of the tournament and they found a way to generate enough offence. They weren’t blowing teams out, 6 or 7-1. There was a lot of good stuff."
New Jersey had generated chances with its defensive pressure this season. The problem has been converting them.
"We talk about it in the room and we try to find solutions," said Brunner, who played for Switzerland. "We work on it in practice. Everyone has to buy in a little more.
"Maybe make that extra step in front of the net and score some dirty goals. We’ll see. The good thing is we don’t give up a lot of goals. We don’t need too many more goals to win game, but we need that one extra goal. Hopefully, we can find something."
DeBoer made one adjustment at practice, having Elias centre a line with Adam Henrique on the left wing and Brunner on the right. It’s not the biggest line, but the trio can skate.
Elias likes the line, a lot more than he enjoyed the Olympics. He had a fever that lasted four days and spent time quarantined in a room with other sick athletes. His hockey for the Czech Republic suffered.
The long-time Devils forward believes some players have to step up.
"We have guys that obviously should be producing more, including me," Elias said. "So we have to find it. We’re capable. It’s just a matter of finding it at least individually or as a line or as a team, and change some of the things or the styles or plays coming up the ice or into the zone that will create more offensively."
The trading deadline is March 5 and no one wanted to guess whether president Lou Lamoriello would make a deal. Jagr insisted that he had not thought about the deadline until asked.
"We just have to go out there and have some fun and win some hockey games." Elias said.
None of the Olympians were worried whether their Olympic experience drained them. Jagr said that taking the last four days off hurt him more than playing five games in 10 days.
"We need to be ready to play and do our best," said Zidlicky, another Czech. "We need every point right now."
Jagr thinks the Devils have a team that can do some damage in the post-season.
"We’ve played Boston and Pittsburgh well," he said. "Once you get in, you never know. The way we play defence, we might surprise some."