Never before has the Ontario Hockey League's all-time leading scorer found the back of the net only once in a six-week span. But the No. 1 selection from the 2009 Entry Draft finds himself in such a predicament heading into Saturday night's game between his New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"I've been able to score goals my whole life," said Tavares, who is 17-16-33 in 57 games with the Isles after a spectacular junior career that saw him hit the back of the net 215 times. "It's new. I haven't gone through something like this, but I'm trying to be as upbeat and as positive as I can. For me, I'm just trying to stay positive knowing another game's coming. We've still got 20-something games left. There's lots of time for me to get going again, along with everybody else."
Certainly, Tavares isn't the only player who is struggling. The Islanders enter Saturday's action having lost six consecutive games, all in regulation. But after a tremendous start to the season -- 10 of his goals came before Dec. 1 -- some are puzzled as to what's caused Tavares to have only one tally since Dec. 23.
For Isles coach Scott Gordon, there is no wondering, especially after Thursday night's 5-2 loss at Tampa Bay. The Lightning have several stars on their team, all with more experience. Included in that group is the No. 1 pick from 2008, Steven Stamkos. After scoring 23 goals in 79 games last season, Stamkos, who turns 20 on Sunday, has 31 tallies in 56 contests this time around.
"You look at the guys on Tampa Bay and you look at our guys, those guys have been in the League for a while," Gordon said. "They're going to make those plays -- those strong plays -- they do everything hard, and that's from experience. There's nothing you can do as far as John goes. He's 19 years old. You can't really be that surprised.
"Stamkos is a perfect example. Last year, he had his struggles and it goes with the territory. I think maybe there's a false sense that we're further along than we are and we're putting all kinds of pressure on our young players to perform at a level that is comparable to the (Vincent) Lecavaliers and the (Martin) St. Louis'. It's not fair because they're not at the same age and they don't have the experience of some of the opposition we're playing against. It's not from a lack of effort. As much I'd like to see the goals and assists, I'm not going to beat him up for it. It's the little things that are going to make him a better player."
"I've been able to score goals my whole life. It's new. I haven't gone through something like this, but I'm trying to be as upbeat and as positive as I can. For me, I'm just trying to stay positive knowing another game's coming. We've still got 20-something games left. There's lots of time for me to get going again, along with everybody else." -- John TavaresTavares' teammates believe it's his drive that will get him back on track. His desire to shine could be the very reason why he soon breaks out of this slump, perhaps as early as Saturday night at the Coliseum, where he scored his first NHL goal four months ago.
"He's hard on himself and he expects a lot from himself every day," Isles captain Doug Weight said of Tavares. "He wants to be the best player on the ice every night. But as he gets stronger, he knows he's going to learn the game more. You have to remember he is 19. I try to keep him loose and just let him know to enjoy this ride. It goes by fast. He won't even remember his first year."
For now, though, it's fresh in his memory bank. While the goals haven't come as of late, the chances remain. That's what has kept Tavares so upbeat.
"You want to score and produce," Tavares said. "The last few games I've been getting some chances and hitting the crossbar or hitting the post. It's not easy, I've just got to keep working through it. It's such a long season. We've still got so many games and we're still in this playoff race. You just kind of forget about it and focus about the next day and keep plugging away and try to make things happen."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter at: @BComptonNHL