Jean-Gabriel Pageau will skate over to his wings before taking a faceoff to let them know exactly where the puck will be. More often than not, he has the puck placement pinpointed.
As a result, Pageau and his linemates win the draw more often than not. And that’s been a huge advantage for the Islanders, who entered Thursday night’s game against the Coyotes at UBS Arena having won seven of eight.
“He’s does a good job of studying who he’s going against,” frequent linemate Zach Parise said. “He knows what they’re going to do. So you can counter that. A lot of times, he tells me where the puck is going to go. He’ll tell me it’s going to go into his feet so I know I need to jump in there. He’s just so good at winning them clean and using his feet.”
Coach Lane Lambert has tried to maximize Pageau’s faceoff acumen, even elevating him to the first power-play unit from the second unit because of his skill in the circles.
“It just leads to puck possession,” Lambert said. “It’s critical.”
Entering Thursday, Pageau was sixth in the NHL with 261 faceoffs taken. His faceoff win percentage of 58.6 tied him for eighth among NHL players who had taken a minimum of 200 draws.
His power-play faceoff win percentage was 64.0 and his offensive-zone faceoff win percentage was 70.3.
“It’s something that I take pride of,” Pageau said. “I’m super-competitive, whether it comes to faceoffs, cards, whatever I do. And I consider that as a one-on-one battle and it’s way more fun playing with the puck.
“A lot of it comes with the help of your wingers or the defensemen winning their battles or boxing their guys out on the dot. I try to let them know before we face off where, mostly, the puck is going to go. If I’m using my skate, which area the puck should be. I don’t know if they listen to me a lot, but I think they’ve been doing a really good job helping me winning draws.”
Pageau’s ability was on particular display in Monday night’s 4-3 overtime win over the visiting Flames as the Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit entering the third period (something they also did in Tuesday night’s 4-3 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden).
Pageau won 20 of 25 faceoffs against the Flames, becoming the first Islander to win that many draws in a game since John Tavares had 21 faceoff wins (in 28 chances) against the Panthers on Jan. 13, 2017.
“Yeah, some nights your forearms are sore,” Pageau said of taking 25 draws against the Flames. “You get hit in the wrists. It feels like a lot. But when you have the puck, it doesn’t feel like a lot.”
Lambert uses Pageau, who turns 30 on Friday, in all situations. His third line with Parise and Kyle Palmieri had yet to be scored upon skating five-on-five. Pageau also is a trusted shorthanded defender — the Islanders entered Thursday third in the NHL on the penalty kill — in addition to playing the bumper position (in the slot) on the first power-play unit.
“A combination of intelligence and skill,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. “Some hockey players are great athletes and some are not, some are just hockey players. He, all-around, is probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen. So his hand-eye coordination is fantastic. He knows faceoffs really well. He knows what the other guy is trying to do and he’s taught himself techniques to try and counteract. He’s pretty good in there.”