On Thursday night, Tavares corralled a chip from Ryan Strome, settled the puck down on a two-on-one rush with Mikhail Grabovski. A top-tier playmaker, Tavares opted for the shot, and rifled a laser over Jhonas Enroth’s shoulder and under the crossbar, putting the Islanders up 4-1.
The goal was Tavares’ second point of the night and seventh point (3G, 4A) in his last four games. With 12 points (5G, 7A) in his last eight games and 20 points (7G, 13A) in his last 19 contests, the Islanders captain is back to the point-per-game pace he’s accustomed to scoring.
“I just want to keep doing the right things,” Tavares said. “I think I’ve been playing well for a few weeks and I want to be consistent, keep it going and create opportunities.”
He’s red-hot now, but his recent point-per-game resurgence came on the heels of a tough stretch for the Islanders’ captain, where he had one assist in eight games from Dec. 4-19.
“I never worried or doubted that the points were going to come,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “He’s had a lot of chances and works hard. But it’s good to see Johnny get the points. As he goes, we go.”
(The Islanders are 11-0-0 when Tavares records two-or-more points in a game.)
Tavares said the December slump was just one of those things. The even-keeled 25-year-old felt that he was working just as hard in practice then as he is now. He said that getting sick at the end of October – so sick he reportedly couldn’t get out of bed for several days – left him feeling a little duller even after he got healthy.
“It was up and down, certainly, and I was trying to overcome some things a little bit,” Tavares said. “I got sick at a bad time and coming out of that I wasn’t as sharp as I usually am. I’m just trying to work on my game and it’s a long season. I’m counted on for a lot to create opportunities and capitalize on them. I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
One area that appears to have improved this season is his wrister. Tavares’ highlight reel goal on Thursday was his second, thread-the-needle type snipe in his last three games. He scored a similar goal on Super Bowl Sunday, beating 6’5 goaltender Anders Nilsson over the shoulder and again just under the bar, but from the opposite wing. It was a perfectly-placed shot, especially from the tough angle he was skating in on. And while Tavares is known for his ability to score from the hash marks in, these mid-range snipes off the rush could be a new weapon in his arsenal.
“People said when he first came into the league that skating might have been an issue or his shot might have been an issue, but he just works on it,” Capuano said. “He scores a lot of goals from the hash marks in, but now he’s working on his shot, he gets an opportunity from the hash marks and he’s going to shoot. The last couple of shots have been real good.”
Tavares’ shot was on full display at the NHL Skills Competition in Nashville in late January, when he won the accuracy shooting contest, hitting four targets on five shots in 12.294 seconds. A year ago, Tavares hit all four targets in 26.122 seconds.
Not that those are game situations, but it’s another sign of Tavares’ year-over-year improvement and evolution as a goal scorer.
“He can do it all,” Strome said. “You can see that with the results in the last 10 games or so. Hopefully he stays hot. It’s good for the team, good for him and we’re going to need him at the top of his game if we’re going to do anything.”