Slumping Tavares Needs a Break, but Will Persevere
In the big picture, this should be little cause for concern.
In his last 22 games, Tavares has zero power play goals and just two power play assists.
Considering his regular presence on the New York Islanders' first power play unit, this is startling. But again, this is life as a 19-year-old -- even a 19-year-old prodigy -- in the NHL.
"I went through it and it's not fun," said Steven Stamkos, the first overall pick from 2008 who faced his own adversity last season. "The way I see it now, it's part of the process. John's going to be great. He's going to get stronger mentally and physically and learn from the challenges."
Earlier this week, Alexander Ovechkin diagnosed the problem. "It's not easy when you're that young and everyone is looking at you to do something great," said the Capitals captain.
Tavares' slump started on Dec. 14, when the Islanders were blown out, 7-1, by Florida at the Nassau Coliseum. On Dec. 8, Tavares was shoved into the glass face-first by Chris Pronger. He lost a tooth, but dusted himself off and scored two goals. Then he scored twice in his next game, a 3-2 loss in Toronto. His failure to produce does not appear to be related to the Pronger incident. As he proved throughout a legendary junior career, Tavares is not easily intimidated.
Like any mortal, however, his teenage body is prone to wear and tear over the long NHL season. Although he has not missed a game this season, Tavares clearly does not have the jump he possessed in the first quarter, when he was 9-10-19 in his first 21 games. While the player and his team understandably will not speak of an injury as he continues to play, Tavares' visits to the training room have been longer over the last six weeks. After practices and after games, he is often seen walking gingerly.
To his credit, Tavares never uses injury as an excuse when confronted about it.
Tavares has hands of gold and a high level of creativity to capitalize on them. Earlier in the season, he displayed a play-starting ability that surprised scouts who saw him only as a world-class finisher. By all accounts, his work ethic is superior, his battle level fierce. As a teammate, he says and does all the right things. Despite this long, unproductive stretch, Tavares is still second (behind Colorado's Matt Duchene) in rookie scoring. He was the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft for good reason.
The first pick in 2008 got his rookie slump out of the way at the beginning. Struggling under the weight of expectations and the Barry Melrose error in Tampa Bay, Stamkos had points in just two of his first 17 NHL games. In the final quarter of the season, Stamkos never went two consecutive games without contributing a goal or an assist.
"I was fortunate, like John is, to have good support from my teammates," said Stamkos, friends with Tavares from their days in the Ontario League and Canadian national teams. "I had guys like Vinny (Lecavalier) and Marty (St. Louis) to lean on. I know John lives with Doug Weight, who I'm sure is a perfect mentor for him. You observe, you listen, you learn, and sometimes there are days when you have to just get away from hockey for a while."
Next week, the Islanders will have three days in Florida between games on Sunday against the Panthers and Thursday against Stamkos and the Lightning. But it's those two weeks without games during the Olympic break that could have Tavares refreshed for the final quarter of his rookie season.