John Tavares struggling to score, but his game has grown

John Tavares of the New York Islanders skates John Tavares of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils. (Jan. 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- No one measures John Tavares' performances tougher than Tavares himself. The Islanders' best player is trying to stay positive in the face of a goal-scoring drought that's a bit longer than the first four games of this shortened season.

Tavares entered Sunday night's game against the Jets without a goal in his previous 15 NHL games dating to March 15 of last season. It's two shy of the longest drought he's had, a 17-game goal-less skid during his rookie year.

He's looked good at times this season, frustrated at others.

"There's been some good moments and I've done some good things," Tavares said after the Islanders' morning skate Sunday at MTS Centre, site of the game. "In my overall game, defensively, in the faceoff circle, there's things I could be doing better. It's a bit about adapting, getting back into the style of play here. I'm not worried about getting future success. My work ethic and getting back in the right mind-set will help."

It may be a bit surprising that Tavares had a little trouble returning to the smaller North American rinks after only 28 games with SC Bern of the Swiss League during the lockout.

Another surprise is that he played left wing, not center, during much of his stint there. That also might be causing some adjustment problems.

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Still, he's the Islander opposing teams are out to stop, and unlike last season, when shutting down Tavares meant shutting down the bulk of the Islanders' scoring, there have been other players who have stepped forward.

And Tavares isn't sitting quietly: He has four assists through four games this season and 15 assists during the 15-game goal drought. But he's been trying to battle through the opposition's best forward lines and defensemen, and he's been slow to recover from big hits in each of the last two games.

"I'm used to the matchups. I've been seeing them for three years now," he said. "It's still a great challenge. I always want to compete against the best so I can raise my level. At times, it's good when Cap [Jack Capuano] is able to get our line away a bit, get some freedom, but playing on the road, I know you're going to get tough matchups. But it's not something I'm worried about."

Tavares had to learn to channel his emotions and frustrations during his first three seasons, and his steady improvement on the ice has mirrored his ability to keep his focus no matter what his stats are.

The 17-game drought that extended through the 2010 Olympic break during his rookie season affected the growth of his all-around game. This current drought has not, as he still takes every meaningful faceoff and gets himself into traffic on every shift.

He also has his teammates stepping in for him. After Dion Phaneuf flattened Tavares on Thursday, Matt Carkner took a run at the Leafs defenseman. Tavares got up slowly after a collision with Chris Kelly in Boston, and Matt Moulson gave Kelly a shove.

"Obviously, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I think that'll always be there. But sometimes you've got to be smart on how much; too much isn't a good thing," he said. "Just gotta stay with a positive mind-set. I know how bad I want to contribute. I know I can still be a lot better."

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