After two fluke goals left his team trailing 5-3 in the third period Saturday night, John Tavares did something he had never done before in his professional hockey career. Something he never did even once in his prolific four-year junior career.
With 5:01 to play, the 20-year-old Tavares returned Thrashers rookie Alexander Burmistrov's crosscheck with a slash to the back and waited for him to turn around. Then he dropped the gloves.
"It's definitely out of my character," Tavares said. "I never fought in junior, let alone at this level, but I've definitely been a little frustrated at times. It's been a tough stretch for everybody and I thought maybe it was a way to get guys going. I just tried to do something different."
Tavares' rare scrap - it was Burmistrov's first career fight as well - served as a clear indication of the Islanders' rampant frustration. The 5-4 loss to Atlanta was the Islanders' 19th defeat in the past 20 games.
That frustration reached a new level when the Thrashers snapped a 3-3 tie with a logic-defying goal that zipped past goaltender Rick DiPietro from a faceoff between Bryan Little and Frans Nielsen. When the puck was dropped, Little shot it in one motion and beat DiPietro.
Less than three minutes after Little's game-changer, Burmistrov scored on a deflection off Brent Sopel's slap shot.
"It's hard to understand, hard to explain. Even Burmistrov's goal, he didn't even have two hands on his stick," Tavares said. "It just hit the shaft and went in. Seeing pucks go in like that the way they are and the ones that aren't going in for us, it's tough."
Once Tavares disentangled from Burmistrov and skated toward the Islanders' bench, he received some encouraging words from his teammates.
"Everyone just said 'good job' and was real supportive," Tavares said.
Tavares, who has only one goal in nine games and was held without a shot on goal for the first time since the season opener (he left that game with a concussion), said he was continuing what his teammates had done earlier in the game - sticking up for one another. PA Parenteau drew a roughing penalty at 3:34 of the third period after pouncing on Sopel for blindsiding Tavares.
"We've got a great bunch of guys, and the way things are going is unacceptable," Tavares said. "Seeing PA and [Matt] Moulson jumping after [Sopel] speaks about the way we feel about each other and that we really do want to get out of this any way possible."
Notes & quotes: With defensemen Radek Martinek (arm) and Mark Eaton (groin) both questionable for tonight's game against Nashville, the Islanders recalled Dylan Reese from Bridgeport on an emergency basis. Forward Rhett Rakhshani, 22, who was selected by the Islanders in the fourth round of the 2006 draft, also was called up from Bridgeport.