New York Islanders: John Tavares Is Breaking Out of His Funk At the Perfect Time
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders returns to the bench after scoring a hat trick third goal of the game against the Arizona Coyotes at 12:41 of the third period at the Barclays Center on October 24, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After a slow start to the 2017-18 season, New York Islanders captain John Tavares is on fire—and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

John Tavares is a special player. He was the youngest skater in Ontario Hockey League history. He was the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. He came oh-so-close to winning the scoring title during his sixth professional season.

Yet for all of his impressive accomplishments — not least, his overtime goal that sent the Islanders to the second round of the playoffs in 2015-16 — Tavares is still lacking in one department: starting the season off on the right note.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: John Tavares gets off to a slow start, fans react with a mix of rage and bewilderment, and the captain breaks out soon after.

“He does this every year,” Cal Clutterbuck said, via Arthur Staple of Newsday. “He goes through a short period where he doesn’t score, he thinks he’s lost it and has to be coaxed off the ledge then he goes out, does what he does and all is right with the world . . . The reason he’s as good as he is, is that he takes what he’s given. When he’s forcing things it doesn’t usually work out.”

Until Tuesday night, when Tavares notched both a hat trick and an assist, things were trending in the wrong direction for the Islanders’ franchise player: his three points were rather uninspiring. With guys like Brock Nelson and Anders Lee on a tear, Tavares’ struggles were all the more concerning.

But like he usually does, Tavares broke out of his funk and has recorded seven points in his last two games. He is, for lack of a better term, ‘En Fuego.’

This is good news for both parties. The Islanders are in dire need of his services; their defensive situation is bleak. Tavares needs a bounce-back campaign; he hasn’t posted more than 70 points in a season since 2014-15.

This is important, because Tavares is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the season, and he’s expected to cash in. The Islanders are furiously trying to lock him up on a long-term deal, and his — and his team’s — performance this season will go a long way in determining whether that will happen.

Oftentimes, Tavares’ production is assumed. He’s a great player, fans reason, so there’s no way that he’ll remain ineffective for so long. That’s valid thinking, but it also misses a larger point: Tavares, like the rest of us, is human. And he too gets into funks where it seems like nothing is working.

But as Clutterbuck said, one of Tavares’ best qualities is his ability to take what he’s given. And sooner or later, that usually translates into production.

“I had some opportunities earlier (this season) that I expect myself to put in,” Tavares told Staple. “Tonight there were some great plays by my teammates and I just got rewarded. You just have to find ways to create opportunities.”

Tavares has recently created those opportunities. He had an assist on Scott Mayfield’s third-period goal on Tuesday night. It was the first by an Islanders defenseman all year.

“Now we need to take what we do well and do it a little more often,” Doug Weight said, per Staple. “I know how it gets when Johnny busts out like this and it was good to see us get a couple wins to go along with it.”

Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.