When the Islanders acquired forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Ottawa Senators in February and subsequently signed him to a six-year extension, the Islanders knew they were getting a special player but they didn’t know just how important he would be after the landscape of the NHL and the whole world changed in the middle of March. When the trade was made, the Islanders were not playing very well and would lose all seven games following Pageau’s arrival leading up the season being suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But since the restart in the Toronto bubble, Pageau has been a force both on and off the ice as the Islanders knocked off the Florida Panthers three games to one in the qualifying round and will now meet the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Pageau has been a big reason for the success of the team and how much fun they have been having in the bubble.
“We want to focus on being good on the ice,” said Pageau. “But we gotta stay loose off the ice and make sure we’re having fun and we keep sticking together and enjoying this time in the bubble. It’s way easier to spend time together than staying in the room and (waiting) all day.”
In the series against Florida, Pageau was a key contributor for the Islanders with three goals, being strong on face-offs, and for playing well on both ends of the ice. During his time with Ottawa, Pageau had some playoff experience with twelve goals and four assists for sixteen points in 35 games. He scored two goals in seven regular season games with the Islanders before the pause, but he has certainly raised his game in the playoffs.
“I think every player (is) always looking to get in the playoffs so everyone really wants to step up,” said Pageau. “Everyone on the team did a really good job in the qualifier just to step up their game. We’re all competitive and we want to leave it all on the ice. It’s part of our game plan.”
Pageau certainly checked a lot of boxes for the Islanders when they acquired him. He seems to do a little of everything including, at times, agitating players on the other team like he did with the Panthers’ Brian Boyle in the qualifying round. He’s fit in perfectly with the Islanders, especially in the playoffs with some big goals but he has also done his part away from the rink to enhance what he called “a brotherhood” that exists on the team.
“He’s like a little bit of a swiss army knife,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “I can use him on both special teams. He can be in a shut-down role and an offensive role. He can play all three forward positions. He’s got some playoff experience and just the personality…he’s a really good pro that fits into our culture and fits into sort of the Islander way. He’s been a great fit for us and sort of puts everybody in the right seat.”
After the Islanders finished off Florida on Friday, the Islanders enjoyed their victory and then turned their attention back to something that has kept them busy during some down time in Toronto…the team’s “Boys of the Isle” ping-pong tournament. Pageau won the singles competition beating defenseman Adam Pelech in the final but it was his flashy entrance into the semifinal contest with Mat Barzal that drew a lot of attention on social media.
Pageau entered the room to music wearing a white robe and white headband.
“I was just trying to have some fun with it and get a little laugh out of it,” said Pageau. “It was pretty good. I don’t know if he felt the intimidation but it was not part of my plan. We have a doubles tournament coming (up) and Leo (Komarov) is my partner so I gotta make sure he’s ready.”
And now after eliminating the Panthers and having some table tennis fun in the bubble, the Islanders will turn their attention to the Washington Capitals, the team that Trotz led to the Stanley Cup title in 2018. The Islanders learned that they will play Washington after the Capitals 2-1 round robin win over the Boston Bruins on Sunday.
“They had a great season,” said Pageau. “They’re (a team) that plays the right way and works hard. We gotta make sure we’re ready.”
So far as an Islander, Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been as advertised in so many ways. If there was a silver lining or two to the COVID-19 pause, it was that the Islanders were able to get healthy with the return of key players like Adam Pelech, Casey Cizikas and Johnny Boychuck, but it was also a time for Pageau to settle in to life as an Islander and to be able to experience training camp 2.0 that seemed to have brought the team together.
It’s probably too early to compare the acquisition of Pageau to the trade that brought Butch Goring to the Islanders in 1980, but there’s no denying that General Manager Lou Lamoriello swung a deal that has made the Islanders better both on and off the ice.