If Jean-Gabriel Pageau wasn’t holding the puck in his hands, he might well have pinched himself.
There he was in the Ottawa Senators dressing room late Friday night, a mixture of pride and disbelief written across his face, the souvenir of his first NHL goal directly in front of him, knowing that his parents, Jean and Yda, were in the seats at the Prudential Center to witness it all.
The added bonus was that the goal came in a 2-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils, against future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, allowing the Senators to fly home on a two-game winning streak.
“It has gone so fast,” said Pageau, a 5-9, 163-pound centre who wasn’t sure whether he would start the 2012-13 season with Binghamton of the American Hockey League, Elmira of the ECHL or back in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as an overage junior. “I didn’t expect to be playing in the NHL and now I have my chance and I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and live like there’s no tomorrow.
“I want to enjoy every moment. I know careers can be short. Or long. And I’m going to have to work harder. Goals aren’t easy to get.”
Well, maybe they are. In his first two games in the NHL, Pageau already has a goal and an assist.
As he flew back home late Friday – Pageau was born in Ottawa and grew up in Gatineau – he was part of a Senators team that found a way to somehow salvage something from what could have been a trip to nowhere other than a lost playoff spot.
If the Senators went into their six-game, 12-day trek knowing they would only win two games, they wouldn’t have expected the victories to come at the tail end, on back-to-back nights in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
The Senators were outshot 33-11 Friday, looking precisely like a team that was on its last legs. The 11 shots are the fewest the Senators have ever scored in a victory in franchise history. For most of the night, it was the Craig Anderson show.
You win some. You lose some. You steal some.
“Our goaltender was a big part of the game and our penalty killing was a big part of the game and we found a way to win,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean. “(The Devils) deserved a better fate. But we’ve been there before.”
What goes around, comes around. Last Sunday, the Senators outshot the Florida Panthers 41-17, but ended up losing 2-1.
As much as Friday’s victory was a night for Pageau to savour, Anderson issued a message of his own, winning for the first time since returning from his sprained ankle.
”I told him afterwards, that ‘he’s back’,” said winger Erik Condra, who was in the penalty box when Anderson helped shut the door during the Devils early 5-on-3 manpower advantage. “I think he likes those games where we give up 30 or 35 shots. He wants more.”
Anderson suggested it wasn’t as difficult as it appeared because the Devils didn’t get to many loose pucks in the slot and around the crease.
“We got two points and that’s all that matters,” he said. “I faced 33 shots. That’s pretty average for us. We did a great job of cleaning up rebounds. Our battle level was outstanding.”
Anderson says it was a team effort and he has been impressed with how Pageau has stepped into the spotlight with so much poise. MacLean offered the same assessment.
“We expected him to come in play well,” the coach said. “But to get a goal and an assist in his first two games is pretty good start to anybody’s career. He has played as advertised. He knows how to get around the rink.”
1: Number of NHL goals scored by Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
2: Number of NHL games played by Jean-Gabriel Pageau
23:31: Eric Gryba ice time, most on the Senators
26:43: Andy Greene ice time, most on the Devils
9: Saves by Martin Brodeur
33: Saves by Craig Anderson
0-for-4: Devils power play record
1:24: Length of Devils 5-on-3 in first period