The Islanders have taken a sudden downward turn, with three straight losses in regulation dropping them from the Metropolitan Division lead to second place, five points behind the Rangers and only two ahead of the Penguins, both of whom have games in hand on the Isles.
But John Tavares doesn't want his teammates to focus on the recent spiral. "It's important not getting down, getting caught up in the standings," the captain said Monday. "You know, a lot of it's mental, so you've got to prepare each and every night. It's going to be a battle. It's a fun time of year to be playing.
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"I think you have to look at it as an opportunity to have that chance to prepare yourself. I think everyone's got an idea of that, I don't think there's too much that needs to be said. But it's important, I think, just to understand the process. We've just got to work our way out of it."
Tavares did not sugarcoat the losses to the Rangers, Senators and Canadiens last week that extended their home losing streak to four games. "No doubt, you lose three at home, especially in a week, we didn't get anything out of it," he said. "We want to be tough to play against at home . . . It's disappointing, but it's over now."
Tavares, a Hart Trophy candidate, leads the NHL with 72 points (33 goals, 39 assists). "It's something you don't want to think about a whole lot," he said of potentially leading the league. "Obviously, it would be a great achievement, but I'm just trying to play my game, do what I do best. Obviously, [I'm] counted on to produce and put the puck in the net. I'm just trying to work on creating those opportunities, and when you get those, you want to put them in the net."
Tavares was scoreless in the three losses. "Johnny's had some great chances in these couple of games, too, but hasn't been able to obviously light the light for us," coach Jack Capuano said. "But he's working hard, he's doing the right things. When you look at our games and the success that we've had, he's always on the scoresheet. He does a lot of good things for us."
Rookie winger Anders Lee said of Tavares: "He's our leader, he's such an offensive talent. We watch him, we learn from him. At the same time, you try to emulate him and work as hard as he does. I think he is the leader on our team when it comes to the offensive side of things. So if he's clicking, it's good for us."
Tavares welcomes whatever pressure is put on him to jump-start the offense. "I just try to go out there every night and approach it the same way,'' he said. "I believe I can be better than I played this past week. It's an opportunity to go out there and respond . . . Obviously, I try just to lead by example, do all the right things and know I'm counted on for a lot. Pressure's part of playing in the NHL, part of being a professional athlete. I put pressure on myself, but at the same time, you need to enjoy the game, enjoy the moment."