Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — So, what exactly is wrong with John Tavares this season?
There could be many answers. The Islanders captain discussed what’s been a strange season for him so far.
His illness: Tavares missed a week just after Halloween with the flu and it hit him hard — perhaps harder than usual due to it being so early in the season.
“Now that’s it’s a little past me, you work so hard in the offseason to make those physical gains and those 2 1/2 days [of being sick] were really tough for me,” Tavares said. “I lost a lot of weight, I really did not feel well and it’s been a long time since I felt that bad. We played a lot of hockey right after that. Coming out of it I felt pretty good but a couple weeks later my game wasn’t good and it was hard to feel like I had a lot of jump. I just kept working through it and now I feel better, trying to stay fresh and play at that high level again.”
Tavares had 11 points in 10 games before his absence. He entered Saturday’s game here with 12 points in the last 20 games, far below his usual scoring pace.
The move: Tavares takes his role as captain very seriously and he is the sounding board for any player concerns to take them to management. So he was intimately involved in all the player preparations for the move to Brooklyn prior to the season and that is a lot of time spent on non-hockey matters for a player whose attention to detail on the ice is second to none.
“Maybe a little bit, but it’s really no excuse,” he said of the off-ice distractions. “Once you get to the rink, it’s about the game and there’s nothing else. We’re all learning. We’ve all talked about getting used to the new routine, getting used to the first year at Barclays, but you don’t really know until you go through it. It’s just like your first year in the league, you don’t know until you go through a full season of it, the differences and the changes.
“We’re trying to handle it as best we can. Our record’s been pretty good at home, obviously there’s more travel and a lot longer days and there’s been a bigger understanding of how much rest we need, how much work we need to get in as a team. Knowing when to pull the reins back a little bit, keep guys fresh.”
The team itself: This is Tavares’ team, but it’s clearly grown the past two seasons to the point where the Islanders can be successful on nights when Tavares is unlucky or not at his best. They are 6-5-3 this season in games where Tavares is held without a point and were 15-12-1 in such games last season; the Isles won just 18 times the previous three seasons when Tavares was held pointless.
So this is clearly not something that’s wrong with Tavares, but right with the Islanders and it’s something that the captain, who is usually guilty of trying too hard to dig himself out of a dry spell, has had to adjust to.
“In a role like mine, you’re counted on for a lot,” he said. “But at the same time, we’re having a lot of guys step up and we have a lot of guys who are playing well. We’re a tight group in here. We’re having some success as a team and we’re trying to reach our ultimate goal, so guys are picking each other up and you’re happy for everyone who’s doing well. When you’re able to pick each other up in those big moments, that’s when you have success as a team.”
By the time you read this, Tavares’ scoring dry spell could be over. That’s also how quickly things can turn around for the Islanders’ best and most reliable player, the past 20 games aside.
Bad Russian rap?
Alexander Semin and Nikolay Kulemin don’t know each other well, but Kulemin still felt for his countryman after Semin was waived by the Canadiens and ended up signing with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, Kulemin’s hometown team.
Semin has been called many things during an 11-year NHL career, few of them nice. It’s a bit of an old trope to call a Russian NHLer disinterested or lazy, but Semin certainly had those labels placed upon him.
“He had over 200 goals (239) in the NHL, so that’s a pretty good career to me,” Kulemin said. “He’s a very talented guy, sometimes it doesn’t work out. You don’t like to hear people say things like that against anyone, not just Russian guys.”