By: Doug Forhecz
John Tavares found open ice early and often Friday night in Ottawa. Early in the first period he gathered the puck in the high slot and closed down on Goaltender Craig Anderson, finally electing a backdoor pass that was closed off by the defense. Moments later Tavares would cruise down the left side and around the defenseman only to once again fire and errant pass through the top of the crease. Late in the third period with the score tied at 1-1 Tavares would pass up his third shooting opportunity of the night, once again off the left wing.
The night came and went, largely uneventful. It was a tight checking atmosphere with the quantity of the shot opportunities significantly outweighing the quality. After allowing a soft shorthanded goalie to Zack Smith on a wrist shot from the far boards that flailed off his glove and into the net, Evgeni Nabokov would only significant test would come with seven minutes left in regulation. Winger Erik Condra found space inside the circle and tried to beat Nabokov through the five-hole, only to be denied. On the next rush into the zone, seconds later, Daniel Alfredsson ripped a shot from the top of the circle through a beautifully set up screen, only to have Nabokov get a piece of it with his blocker. It is a good bet that Nabokov didn’t get much of a glimpse of the shot. Seen below, it was the most work Nabokov would do in the evening.
Ottawa netminder, Craig Anderson, had to be a little sharper than his counterpart through the course of the night. He was tested early by both defense partners Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald. MacDonald was particularly aggressive, joining the rush three times in the first period. In the opening minutes of overtime Anderson would be tested again by John Tavares. Tavares used his speed to once again find space on the left wing, finally choosing to snap a shot off of the shoulder of Anderson. Tavares gathered the rebound and slid another shot around Anderson, only to have the potential game winning goal ring off of the post. Mark Eaton would seal the victory moments later after a defensive lapse by the Senators left him all alone at the side of the net while Sergei Gonchar and Jared Cowen stepped up the challenge a shot fake from Milan Jurcina. The fake froze Anderson, who dropped to his knees as Eaton received the pass that he would put into a largely vacated net.
When you take a moment to consider the amount of puck possession and open ice John Tavares is able to acquire and maintain, you wonder how much untapped potential the Islanders best player has. The initial impression one would have when a star player passes up three quality scoring chances is that the player needs to shoot more. In the case of Tavares, this is completely inaccurate. Tavares has 187 shots on the season, which places him fourth in the league behind Rick Nash, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal. There is certainly no question about his passing ability and accuracy. He has 31 helpers on the season, good for 13th in the league and only 12 behind the leader, Henrik Sedin. His 53 points Are tied with a pack for 5th in the NHL. His line has accounted for nearly half of the teams’ goals.
To put it simply, he does everything for the Islanders.
He truly is one of the players the other teams need to be scared of when he steps on the ice. He is never mentioned in the same breath as Crosby, Giroux, Stamkos, or Malkin. It appears that the general consensus is that he is a notch below that group. Perhaps this is only because he has yet to score 30 goals in a seasons. At the end of the day, statistics are the thing to rely on in any evaluation. For the most part, what is seen on the ice should make its way into the box score in one form or another. So, maybe it’s fair to keep Tavares out of the elite class until he completes a season among the league leaders in statistics. Which, apparently, should be this year.
Brian Rolston and Dylan Reese were healthy scratches for the second game in a row. Evegeni Nabokov started his first game since January 23rd. The Islanders have acquired points in six of their last seven contests. The hot streak leaves them still nine points out of playoff contention with one game in hand on eight-seeded Toronto. The Islanders return home Saturday night against Buffalo at 7:00 p.m.