NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — He’s arguably one of the three or four best players on the planet, but of late John Tavares has looked pedestrian.
Why? It could be a combination of things.READ MORE: New Jersey Under State Of Emergency As Nor'easter Threatens Flood Prone Areas
A two-time finalist for the Hart Trophy and nearly a winner of the Art Ross Trophy, given to the NHL’s leading scorer, last season, Tavares is currently producing below his usual point-per-game pace. This as the Islanders have used a 6-0-2 stretch to move within three points of first place in the Metropolitan Division and four of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Imagine how good they could be if Tavares gets his game going?
He sure does.
“I expect myself to play at a high level consistently,” Tavares told reporters following Wednesday’s grueling practice. “Definitely, you put pressure on yourself. That’s the way it’s always been, the way you push your game. So just trying to make sure you’re doing the right thing, build on some good things and obviously produce. So just have to keep staying with it.”
General manager Garth Snow chose to stand pat during the offseason, refusing to add significant pieces to a club that despite putting up 101 points, its most since 1983-84, failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs, losing in seven games to the Washington Capitals.
Snow’s philosophy seems to be it’s better to lock up your own young players with potential than it is to splurge big bucks on older — yet more experienced — free agents in today’s salary cap age. It’s a risky approach considering the Islanders are viewed as a win-now team but have not won a playoff series since 1993.
That organizational approach has put a ton of pressure on the talented players the Islanders do have, including one in particular.
Tavares has 12 goals and 22 points in 26 games (he missed three due to illness). That’s hardly a crime, but he has just three points over the last eight games. The Islanders’ top line has been brutal during the stretch as well, managing just a single even-strength goal. While most people look to Tavares to be the catalyst, the fact remains the Isles simply do not a lot of consistent goal scorers. Veteran Frans Nielsen, for example, is second on the team with 11, but has never scored more than 25 in a season.READ MORE: Heavy Rain Has Queens Residents Worried About Ida Repeat: 'I'm Scared To Death'
No other Islander is in double digits this season.
Kyle Okposo, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and is reportedly seeking a big contract, has six goals in 29 games. Brock Nelson has nine, but has disappeared from time to time. Anders Lee, who received a nice extension over the summer, has four. Veteran Mikhail Grabovski has five. Both have less than fourth line grinder Cal Clutterbuck, who is currently day-to-day with an upper body injury.
So it’s not all about Tavares’ slump, though head coach Jack Capuano said Wednesday his best player might be pressing a bit.
“I get it — there are players that go through this stretch,” Capuano said. “He wants to contribute. But when you talk to Johnny, he realizes that we’re having some success right now, we’re winning. And that’s the most important thing to him.
“He’s a great leader, on and off the ice, and he wants to win, more than anything. But at the same time, he wants to contribute. He’s not cheating, he’s not taking any shortcuts. He’s doing a lot of the right things. I believe the harder you work, the luckier you get. It’s going to come for him.”
Tavares lost the scoring title last season by one point to Dallas’ Jamie Benn, but sits 21 back of this season’s current leader, Chicago’s Patrick Kane.
“Sometimes you can’t really avoid it, it’s everywhere,” Tavares said of production drop-off. “But it’s a long season and it’s something you don’t try to focus on. I think I know what my strengths are, and what I’m counted on for, and obviously that’s to create opportunities and to produce. So you just try to stay with it and find more ways to create chances. And you obviously have to find a way to put it in.
“It’s just one of those times right now that I’m trying to work through it,” he added.MORE NEWS: MTA Says It's Prepared To Deal With Subway Flooding, Commuters Encouraged To Use Mass Transit
The Islanders have off until Saturday when they take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.