GLENDALE, Ariz. - Picture the scene Friday night: 44 seconds left in the game, the puck on his stick and rookie sniper John Tavares has his best opportunity of the night to tie the game and finally say goodbye to his current slump.
Tavares did not end his six-game goal drought in storybook fashion in the Islanders' 4-3 loss to Dallas. His backhand missed by half an inch, hitting the goalpost in a cruel tease and extending his slump to seven games.
"I thought so, I hoped so," Tavares said when asked if he thought that would be the shot to get him back in the scoring column. "[Josh] Bailey made a great pass, I found some open ice, the defense slowed down and the puck was bouncing. I settled it down, saw [Marty] Turco on his knees and got it right where I wanted it, but it was just a little too much."
That ominous clank off the goalpost assured Tavares he'd carry that looming pressure into last night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes. With only two points - one goal and one assist - in the past 14 contests, Tavares said before the game he hoped to reverse his luck hours later.
"It's a little frustrating, but I've done this my whole life and hopefully it will end soon," Tavares said.
Despite his recent lack of production, Tavares is still tied for the team lead with 16 goals and second in total points (29). Heading into last night's contest, he also led all rookies in scoring. He had two assists through the first two periods against the Coyotes, and took an elbow to the head from Ed Jovanovski that drew a five-minute major near the end of the first period.
Such early success, coach Scott Gordon said, may be part of the reason for his cooling-off period.
"I don't want to say things came easy for him, but he did have offensive success. Sometimes there can be a false sense that everything's going great and maybe there's not as much value in all of the little details," Gordon said. "Now he's giving himself the opportunity to do more when those things don't happen."
What has impressed Gordon about Tavares is the way the 19-year-old has sought out those areas to improve and worked diligently to get better.
"He's finding a way to do the little things to get out of it," Gordon said.
Despite his acumen for goal-scoring, Tavares doesn't want to be a one-dimensional player. During his drop-off in offensive output, Tavares has worked on simplifying his game and making himself more well-rounded. Skating, backchecking and shortening his shifts to maximize his efficiency on the ice have become recent areas of emphasis.
"I have expectations. Everyone knows that's what I do best, but I've always said I want to be a complete player and the little things I've been working on can translate offensively," Tavares said.
Hopefully, the work will soon translate to another one of those stellar chances like Friday night. But this time, he wants to make sure to finish.
"Of course I want to score goals and make plays, that's what I love to do," Tavares said. "That's what I have a great passion and drive for. I've spent my whole life doing that, so I know it will come back."