The “12 Days of Christmas” is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 12 Days of Hockeymas starts with one of the most talked-about players in team history. During the 1995-96 season, 23-year-old Jaromir Jagr put up a franchise record 12 game-winning goals (GWG). Jagr beat the previous record of 10 GWG scored by Mario Lemieux during the 1992-93 season.
Before reviewing each of Jagr’s 12 GWG, it should be noted that the 1995-96 season was beyond impressive for his line. Jagr joined Ron Francis and captain Lemieux to form one of the best lines in team history. Putting together three players that are in the top-10 all-time in points is something no other team can say. Combined, the three scored 429 points and ranked first, second, and fourth in the league in scoring that year.
What follows is a quick review of each of Jagr’s game-winning goals from the 1995-96 Penguins season that saw them go all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.
1: 10/7/1995 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The impact of Jagr on the 1995-96 season was felt immediately, as he picked up the GWG in the first game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jagr and the Penguins rolled over the Leafs to an 8-3 victory led by Francis and Lemieux who each had four points, while Jagr picked up three.
In total the two teams scored 11 goals, and seven of them came on special teams; five power-play goals and two short-handed. Jagr’s GWG occurred late in the first period and was one of the four even-strength goals.
2: 10/26/1995 @ New York Islanders
For his second GWG of the season, Jagr again had a three-point night in a 7-5 battle against the New York Islanders. With the win, the Penguins improved to 3-2-2 on the year, while the Islanders continued to flounder to a 1-6-1 record.
Despite having a team that featured Wendel Clark, Ziggy Palffy, and a few other current or future star players, the Islanders finished near the bottom of the league in points. Wrapping up the 1995-96 season with a 22-50-10 record (54 points) and dead last in the Atlantic Division.
3: 11/17/1995 @ Washington Capitals
Of Jagr’s 12 GWGs, this is the only one that came during an overtime period. His only point of the night elevated the Penguins to a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals. Following the game, the Penguins record sat at 10-3-3.
An interesting note on Jagr’s goal is one of the assists was made by Bryan Smolinski, a journeyman center who only played one season in Pittsburgh. His single season with the team was arguably his best, with a career high in assists (40) and points (64).
4: 12/1/1995 vs Florida Panthers
Another close game for the Penguins was a matchup against the eventual Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers that went into the third period scoreless.
Then, Jagr broke through for a pair, including his fourth GWG of the season. The game ended in a 2-1 victory for the Penguins growing their record to 15-5-3.
5: 12/15/1995 @ Dallas Stars
In a game that saw 58 penalty minutes between the two teams, Jagr picked up six of those minutes, but also his fifth GWG by scoring the second goal in a 5-1 rout of the Dallas Stars. Yet to lose 10 games on the season, the Penguins left Dallas with their 20th win on the season holding a 20-6-3 record.
6: 12/30/1995 vs Florida Panthers
Just before the turn of the calendar year, the Penguins and Panthers put on a playoff-level battle on the ice. Seventy penalty minutes, a 6-5 final score, and a Lemieux hat-trick helped set the stage for when the two teams would meet for a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Final. For the time being, another Penguins victory set them at a 24-9-3 record to Florida’s 25-10-2.
7: 1/17/1996 @ Buffalo Sabres
In an attempt to break a three-game losing streak, Jagr opened the scoring against the Buffalo Sabres just 59 seconds into the game; it would end as a 1-0 victory for the Penguins. The rest of the game was filled with fights, penalties, and multiple game misconducts. At the conclusion of the match, there was 93 penalty minutes between the clubs.
Jagr’s lone goal was assisted by Rusty Fitzgerald, a center who played 25 career games and counted four total points. One of Fitzgerald’s two career goals was assisted by Jagr, as well as Francis. Not bad for only scoring four points in an NHL career.
8: 2/6/1996 vs Boston Bruins
Nearing the end of the season, Jagr stepped up his game in the clutch department, picking up his first of three GWG in the month of February against the Boston Bruins. The two teams went back-and-forth in a game that saw six lead changes and ended in a 6-5 Penguins victory.
9: 2/16/1996 @ Winnipeg Jets
The day following Jagr’s 24th birthday, he picked up the only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets for his ninth GWG of the season. This bout against the Jets was the last time the team traveled to Winnipeg before the organization relocated to Phoenix and became the Coyotes.
10: 2/23/1996 vs Hartford Whalers
This game stands out because there is a little more history to be told. While Jagr scored two goals, including his 10th GWG to tie the franchise record, his second was his 50th of the season. Just under four minutes prior, Lemieux had picked up his 50th goal in 50 games played. The duo became only the second pair of players to score their 50th goal in the same game in NHL history. The Penguins beat the Hartford Whalers 5-4, and Hartford’s Brendan Shanahan had a hat trick.
With Jagr’s 50th goal of the season, he became the first Czechoslovakian-born player to reach that milestone. He achieved the feat two more times in his career, while the only other Czech native to eclipse that mark was Milan Hejduk in 2002-03.
11: 3/28/ 1996 @ Florida Panthers
Jagr waited over a month to break Lemieux’s record, and he did it while scoring his 60th goal of the season. Jagr’s 11th GWG of the season came during the second period and helped the Penguins defeat the Panthers 3-2. The only team to appear on this list multiple times, the Panthers were beat by Jagr three times in game-winning situations.
12: 4/6/1996 vs Tampa Bay Lightning
To add some separation between he and Lemieux’s former record, Jagr netted his 12th and final GWG of the season in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team’s 48th of 49 wins on the season, Jagr’s goal helped reach the second most wins in franchise history at the time.
The franchise record of 12 GWG is a reachable one — Phil Kessel came close in 2018-19 when he scored 10. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have both put up nine GWG themselves, making 12 a record that can be broken. The NHL record for most GWG in a season 16 by Phil Esposito who did it two seasons in a row (1970-71, 1971-72) and Michel Goulet (1983-84).
Next up for the Penguins’ 12 Days of Hockeymas, the 11 playoff series against the rival Washington Capitals.