Tavares toughs it out on island

Islanders forward John Tavares leaves the ice after losing against the Thrashers at Nassau Coliseum...

Islanders forward John Tavares leaves the ice after losing against the Thrashers at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on December 11, 2010. (JIM McISAAC/Getty Images)

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:17 PM ET

Over the past two-and-a-half weeks, the New York Islanders have won six of eight games, while their franchise player has 10 points.

It’s hardly a coincidence.

John Tavares has had a hard time living up to the billing of a NHL first-overall draft pick, although it’s not like he’s getting much help with the Islanders, who play the Calgary Flames Monday night at the Saddledome.

But something clicked a few weeks ago, right about the time he engaged in his first career fight.

On Dec. 11 against the Atlanta Thrashers, Tavares tussled with Alexander Burmistrov in the first scrap of either player’s NHL career.

In letting out some aggression, Tavares has seemingly knocked off the pressure of being the biggest offensive weapon on a team ravaged by injuries.

“Any time you are 20 years old, there is a lot of pressure on you, but he’s handled it really well,” said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano. “He’s a reserved guy.

“He studies his game really well. He watches a lot of video. He’s one of those guys who tries to get better every day. I like his attitude.

“He’s playing with some confidence now, and he’s putting some points up. It’s not golf or tennis. It’s a team game. We have to make sure all 20 guys are ready to play when the puck drops. That’s our focus right now.”

It’s too early to determine if Tavares is a draft bust.

Compared with the first-overall pick the year before, he’s a bit behind the pace of a budding superstar.

But while Steven Stamkos has the benefit of being mentored by the likes of Martin St. Louis with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tavares had his veteran playmaking linemate sidelined by injury.

Doug Weight was expected to help groom Tavares when the Toronto youngster arrived on Long Island, but a back injury has held the former Edmonton Oilers star to just 18 games this season.

Weight only played 36 games last year, a season in which Tavares managed 24 goals. This season, Tavares has 11 goals logging first-line minutes with forwards such as Weight, Trent Hunter, Kyle Okposo out.

“Doug’s been a big influence on me ever since I got here,” Tavares said. “He’s really helped me handle things like this. It’s nice to see us get some results lately. I’m really excited about where we’re going.

“Doug’s such a great player and person — it’s tough not having him here every day and not on the ice as well.

“He’s not only become a role model for me, but we’ve also became really good friends. We would like to have him out there because he certainly can make an impact.”

On New Year’s Eve, the Islanders went into Detroit and pulled off an 4-3 overtime upset over the Red Wings. It’s no coincidence Tavares had his second three-point night of the season.

If the Islanders do become a competitive team again, Tavares will likely be part of it, although he warns he won’t be the only part.

“It’s not just going to be me to take us to the next level,” Tavares said. “It’s going to have to be everybody in here. Definitely, I want to be part of it and to be counted on for a lot of responsibility — I put pressure on myself for that.”

ian.busby@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ianbusby57


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