"Sure, I noticed it," Tavares said with a smile Saturday after the Islanders' morning skate at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. "It doesn't make it any easier, that's for sure. This is going to be quite a challenge, but I'm excited for it."
On the other side of the faceoff dot Saturday night will be Sidney Crosby, former Canadian junior sensation turned international hockey icon at the ripe age of 22. While the expectations for Tavares are not quite in the stratosphere as the ones Crosby faced -- and has already matched -- the Islanders' center is facing a role model tonight.
"You watch the way he has handled things, the way he plays," Tavares said of Crosby, "and you learn from it. His influence is big on me."
Crosby remembers his NHL debut four years ago, a loss in New Jersey. "My first shift, I had a really good scoring chance and missed," he recalled today after the Penguins' workout. "I skated back to the bench and thought, 'It could be worse.' We lost the game, but I'll remember the experience forever." His advice for Tavares? "Enjoy it. Your NHL career is not going to be judged on this one game."
The curtain opens on Tavares' career tonight as the Islanders attempt to keep those expectations at a reasonable level. "You have to understand he's 19," said coach Scott Gordon. "We have to let John grow into a superstar. We don't want to give him the burden of saving the franchise."
The young center will play tonight on a line with potential star right wing Kyle Okposo and former Kings farmhand Matt Moulson to his left. But you could not blame Tavares for looking straight ahead a few times. In Crosby, Tavares can see what it's like to have the weight of the league and a town on your shoulders, and carry it with excellence and grace.
Game Notes: Pittsburgh's scratches will likely be W Chris Bourque and D Martin Skoula ... Max Talbot (offseason shoulder surgery) is not expected to return to the lineup for two months. Alex Goligoski, an offensive defenseman prospect on the verge of a breakout, was arguably the Penguins' best defenseman throughout training camp and had two points in the team's 3-2 win in their home opener against the Rangers on Friday night.
Islanders scratches are forwards Doug Weight, Rob Schremp, Blake Comeau and defenseman Jack Hillen. Weight, named captain on Thursday, is coming back from a groin injury and Gordon does not want to push the veteran back too soon. The Islanders' second game of the season is not until Thursday in Ottawa. Dwayne Roloson gets the start in goal.