The New York Islanders did not put their best skate forward in their 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils last night. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was brilliant and Oliver Wahlstrom shined yet again.
But the play of a center Jean-Gabriel Pageau caught my attention.
Whether it was winning a defensive-zone faceoff, laying a hit, or scoring a big goal, Pageau seemed to always do something that positively impacted the game for the Islanders night in and night out. Pageau has been red-hot as of late and that trend continued on Tuesday.
The 28-year old forward finished the game with an assist, four shots on goal, four blocks, and one steal to cap off his impressive performance. Pageau helped the Islanders get on the board first when he helped spring Wahlstrom with a pass that led to the game’s first goal.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) March 3, 2021
Unfortunately, Pageau’s outlet pass did not make the highlight reel. What also failed to make the cut was his positioning in his own zone. It allowed him to pick up a loose puck following a Nick Leddy mishandle before feeding his linemate with ease.
On that goal, Jean-Gabriel Pageau recorded his 100th career NHL assist, which came in career-game number 457. His ability to make simple plays such as that pass makes him the perfect linemate for Wahlstrom, who currently finds himself on a five-game point streak.
After the game, Wahlstrom was asked about the growing confidence he has displayed over the last couple of weeks. He attributed that boost to his teammates.
While he did not specifically mention his linemate, we all know how integral Pageau’s play has been to his growth at the NHL level.
“I’m kind of falling in love with the details of my game, the little details,” Wahlstrom said. “I feel like that’s helping. It’s bringing me more enjoyment to the game, and I’m thinking less about production and everything. I’m just focusing on the little details.”
The big takeaway is that Wahlstrom is thinking less. I attribute some of that to the ease that comes with playing alongside Pageau. When you can rely on a linemate to make those big plays to get you the puck or cover back on defense when you make a mistake, it allows you to focus on your game.
Wahlstrom does not have to worry about every little detail when he is on the ice with no. 44.
Besides dishing pucks to his teammate, Jean-Gabriel Pageau had opportunities to score as well throughout the contest. All four of his shots on New Jersey netminder Aaron Dell came in-tight, with three of them being considered high danger scoring chances. But Dell answered the call with his glove each time.
The Ottawa native contributed to 54.57-percent of the Islanders scoring chances when he was on the ice according to Natural Stat Trick.
Even though he only won 47.6-percent of his draws tonight, Pageau was called upon to take nine defensive zone draws. While that percentage is not available, it shows how much his coach believes in him to come up with those big wins. And in a tight game, like we saw last night, key wins in the defensive zone are monumental to the result on the scoreboard. Pageau won 40-percent of his offensive draws, which matched his highest mark over his last eight games.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau is not just an offensive player by any means.
Many questions loomed following his arrival about his ability to fit into the defensive system head coach Barry Trotz had in place. However, Pageau’s style has fit perfectly into the system due to his awareness and positioning in his own zone.
New Jersey did not generate one high danger chance on Varlamov when Pageau’s skates were on the ice.
Being a penalty killer was a notable trait for Jean-Gabriel Pageau before joining the Islanders and that skill was on display last night in the win. It has been on display this whole season. He helped the Islanders kill off three of the four Devil power plays, as he would have been out there for the fourth power-play opportunity had he not been the one serving the two minutes.
Pageau played 1:07 minutes on the penalty kill tonight.
To end the game, Pageau took the final faceoff at center ice after the Devils scored with 14 seconds remaining on the clock to make it a 2-1 game. Due to his awareness and hockey IQ, he pushed the puck forward to eliminate any chance of a puck coming into the Islanders’ zone.
It was a beautiful way for him to end a strong showing in New Jersey.
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