John Tavares directing energy toward scoring, not refs

From left, Thomas Vanek #26, John Tavares #91

From left, Thomas Vanek #26, John Tavares #91 and Brock Nelson #29 celebrate a second-period goal by Tavares against the Dallas Stars. (Jan. 6, 2014) (Credit: Getty)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- John Tavares is many things: Islanders star, captain, Olympian and NHL first star of this past week, thanks to four goals, six assists and four straight victories.

He also is young, only 23 years old, and emotional. His maturity as a player sometimes shields his fiery temperament, which was on display at times during the Islanders' ugly first half of this season. He even earned an unsportsmanlike-conduct minor Nov. 2 for barking at a referee after a penalty call, unheard of from the NHL's current stars, much less current stars who are team captains.

On Sunday in Dallas, Tavares had a strong case to bring to the attention of referees Dan O'Rourke and Francis Charron in the second period with the Isles down a goal. After a nifty passing play between linemates Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek, the puck came toward Tavares with Stars goaltender Dan Ellis out of position.

It appeared to be a tap-in for Tavares, tie game imminent. But Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley slashed Tavares' stick in two, the puck went sliding away and no arm went up to call a penalty.

"It was pretty obvious," Tavares said. "That's basically an automatic goal."

Matters were compounded moments later when Andrew MacDonald took a hooking penalty. During the TV timeout, Tavares had a chance to get an explanation from O'Rourke; instead, he let Okposo get the reasoning, something about it being "a battle play," according to Tavares.

Tavares chose to channel his energy in other ways, such as scoring the winner with 1:24 to go.

"That stuff happens -- though it seems like it's happened a few times to us the last few games -- and sometimes you're better off not asking for an explanation or having a conversation," Tavares said. "You just move on and try to worry about the next shift."

It's not as if frustration has eaten Tavares alive this season. After all, he sits tied for second in the league at 56 points. And if the Islanders, 9-3-0 in their last 12 games, continue that run and get back into the postseason, he'll be a finalist for the Hart Trophy, as he was last season.

But a similar turning point occurred last season, when Tavares decided talking about missed calls wasn't worth it. The Islanders stopped worrying about a lot of things down the stretch last season, and they produced a playoff berth.

"You know there's going to be missed calls, and there isn't much you can do about it," coach Jack Capuano said. "Just go and play, that's how we want to be."

After a 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes on Jan. 4, Vanek noted that the Islanders can become preoccupied with the officials. Tavares, as the leader of the club, made a different choice Sunday -- and his teammates seem to have followed suit.

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