The high point of John Tavares' season came Jan. 15, when he scored a natural hat trick in the second period of the New York Islanders' 5-3 win against Buffalo. Tavares made it look easy -- he needed just 5:46 to beat Vezina Trophy-winner Ryan Miller three times.
The hat trick gave the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft 18 goals in the 40 games he'd played, putting him on pace for well over 30 in his second season.
But just like that, Tavares' hot stick has gone cold. He enters the Isles' game against Toronto at the Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday night without a goal in his previous nine games. Not coincidentally, the Islanders have gone 3-6-0 in that stretch.
Despite the drought, neither Tavares nor interim coach Jack Capuano professes any concern about the 20-year-old's struggles to find the back of the net.
"Obviously I'd like to score every game," Tavares said after the morning skate on Tuesday. "But sometimes when things aren't coming, I feel I'm making contributions in other ways. That's a development in my game that has to come a long way, and I think it has."
One area in which Tavares has been contributing is in the faceoff circle. He's winning 52.2 percent of his draws this season, a big jump from his 47.5 percent showing as a rookie. He's working harder without the puck, though that may not be evident from his minus-20 rating.
Tavares also feels he's been contributing offensively during the drought despite not scoring goals.
"I still think I'm creating a lot of opportunities, still producing offensively," said Tavares, who has 6 assists during the nine-game drought. "I have a lot more shots than I did last year. As long as those things are coming, I'm sure they'll start going in again."
Capuano says Tavares' lack of goal-scoring doesn't worry him.
"Not by any means," he said. "I got asked this question a while back, and Johnny went on a tear. He's getting his chances, and as far as a coach –- if you watch the game and you see that those chances are coming, there's no concern.
"If he wasn't getting scoring chances, then obviously we'd be concerned. But he's driving his legs, he's getting to the net, he's doing a lot of little things. He's playing the best hockey that I've seen him play in the last month."
Despite the goal drought, Tavares still shares the team lead in goals with linemate Matt Moulson (18), and he's tops on the Islanders with 39 points in 49 games. Tavares is on pace for 63 points, a jump from the 54 he put up as a rookie, despite playing on a team that struggles to score.
Maybe a visit from the Leafs will help. The Ontario native has scored four times in his five career games against Toronto, including the overtime-winner in 2-1 victory on Oct. 18.
"My ties to Toronto –- whether we're playing them at home or on the road, I want to play well," he said.