John Tavares of the New York Islanders looks on after...

John Tavares of the New York Islanders looks on after the first period during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 18, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Alex Goodlett

It may seem as though John Tavares isn't producing up to his recent high standards through 18 games, and technically, that viewpoint is correct. His 18 points, heading into Friday night's game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, has Tavares a bit off his 18-game starts the previous two seasons.

But would you trade 10 more points from Tavares for, say, four fewer wins from a team that's off to its best start by far since Tavares arrived?

"The goal is to win and you make those sacrifices to win," Tavares said. "I still think I've been able to produce at a pretty good rate so far. Like I've always said, I'm never really satisfied, so there's always room to do more and produce more.

"Do I think I could be better than where I'm at now? Sure. But we're playing good hockey, we're doing the right things and we've got a good group where everyone contributes. We need everyone to have success."

The Islanders do need everyone. The lack of team success in five of Tavares' first six seasons underscores how much this team needed to increase its depth around its star, how much help Tavares needed -- and, in turn, how much Tavares could improve his play without the puck and in his own zone to become a better-rounded superstar.

"His shift times are down and he's playing well defensively. Those are two big areas for me," Jack Capuano said of Tavares, whose average shift time is 56 seconds this season, down from 57 seconds a season ago. "Knowing him like I do, I'm sure he's a little frustrated with his production. But he's generating chances. And I know this: John Tavares will always put the team first."

Sidney Crosby will line up against Tavares the next two nights. The Penguins' captain leads the league with 26 points and his team is rolling through the early portion of this season.

Tavares surely would love to be up there in the scoring chase rather than sitting in an eight-way tie for 18th in scoring (tied with teammates Brock Nelson and Kyle Okposo).

But the biggest difference for this team is the Islanders' results through 18 games. Their fast start (12-6-0) trumps any feelings of point-scoring inadequacy.

"As far as where I'm at, I'm just trying to generate opportunities, a lot of focus on trying to be better defensively," Tavares said. "I feel like my game has come a long way in that area. When you're good defensively, it does seem to lead to offense."

Notes & quotes:Johnny Boychuk (lower body) practiced fully Thursday and should be ready to play Friday night. Boychuk missed most of the second period of Tuesday night's 5-2 win over the Lightning . . . Michael Grabner (hernia surgery) also practiced and traveled to Pittsburgh with the team. He could be activated off injured reserve for the game. In order to make room for Grabner, the Islanders would need to waive someone off the active roster.

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