- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

From 1981 through 2001, only three players captured NHL scoring championships. Wayne Gretzky won 10, Mario Lemieux six and Jaromir Jagr five.
Tonight in Pittsburgh, Lemieux of the Penguins and Jagr of the Washington Capitals will face each other in a regular-season NHL game for the first time. The two of them still are among the NHL scoring leaders, each holding the other in the highest degree of respect. Gretzky has retired to part ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes.
This is no ordinary meeting their first since facing each other at last year's Olympics, which followed a showdown as opponents in last year's NHL All-Star Game. It is perhaps the beginning of the last chapter of the relationship between the pair, one already an established star in the league when the other arrived from the Czech Republic in the early '90s.
It was a meeting that was highly anticipated last season after Jagr, then a superstar in his own right, was dealt to Washington in a somewhat controversial trade dictated by Lemieux, the Penguins owner who was trying to balance the books. But hip injuries cut Lemieux's season to just 24 games, none against the Caps.
"We had no choice we had to do it at the time," Lemieux said of the trade the other day. "He understood that. He understood it was a business deal, so there are no hard feelings."
The fans in Pittsburgh didn't understand. Jagr was booed with an intensity usually reserved for Cleveland Browns quarterbacks by fans inside Mellon Arena, who thought Jagr's move to Washington bordered on treason. It was treated as a personal affront by Penguins fans, the same way they would have treated Terry Bradshaw had he gone to the Oakland Raiders.
Jagr laughed and just shook his head when asked about the booing. "Hopefully, they'll change this year and boo Langer," he said, referring to Robert Lang, the former Pittsburgh center obtained by the Caps last summer.
This meeting comes at a time when Lemieux who has already missed a season and later retired due to health reasons is healthy, frisky and continuing to display the talents which made him one of the greatest players ever. He has played all eight Pittsburgh games, is averaging 24 minutes a game and leads the NHL with 18 points, including four goals.
Jagr has scored the winning goal in three of the Caps' four victories and is tied for 11th in the scoring race (six goals and four assists for 10 points), averaging 221/2 minutes a game.
"I'm saying to win the scoring title for him, it's up to him," Jagr said of Lemieux. "If he's going to be healthy and play the best he can play, he's going to win it. For other people, when Mario's in the game, then you need two things for you to play good and for Mario not to play that good."
Said Lemieux of his former teammate: "I've seen [Jagr] play in Pittsburgh for many years and he's still one of the best in the world, if not the best. It's nice to see he's in good shape this year and came to camp ready to play. It's making a big difference."
Lemieux is feeling so good, he is doing things he said he wouldn't do again. He vowed that back-to-back games were a thing of the past, yet played Friday and Saturday nights, took a full practice yesterday and will play tonight. He will be facing a team against which he has had great success: 49 goals and 98 points. He also has more penalty minutes (96) against Washington than against any other team, which says all there is to say about the intensity between the teams over the years.
"I'm feeling pretty good and I feel I'm skating a lot better than I did the last couple years obviously, a lot better than last year, when I was injured," Lemieux said. "I'm just trying to play as many games as I can and keep playing the way I'm playing lately. If I can do that, I'll be competing for the scoring title."
Said Jagr: "When Mario's healthy, that's the only guy I would never be able to beat in the scoring race. If he's going to be healthy and play his best, nobody has a chance because he's that talented compared to other people."
What does Lemieux think about a possible race with Jagr for the scoring title?
"That would be great," Lemieux said. "It would be great for everybody, for the league, for hockey in general. I think we'll have a pretty good chance at it."
"That's probably what the fans want." Jagr said. He refers to Lemieux as the teacher and himself as the student, and "no matter how the student is learning, he's still not going to be able in my mind to beat the teacher."
It's a long season.

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