John Tavares is a player who is almost always noticeable in a good way, even on nights when he makes mistakes or "tries to do too much" or is caught on the wrong end of some turnovers. His play in Thursday night's 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators was no exception, punctuated by a game-winning goal where he pounced on an opportunity and then buried his own rebound from a diminishing angle.
But his work on Anders Lee's goal to open the Islanders' scoring was even more impressive.
It's a perfect example of how Tavares is the man stirring the drink for the Islanders, and not exclusively in flashy ways (though he provides plenty of flash, too).
Watch, relive, enjoy:
A few points about this:
Tavares Draws the Attention, Still Hurts You: It starts with him absorbing sticks to the back by Shea Weber, who is clearly chiefly taking on the assignment of harassing Tavares, following him behind the net and to the corner.
Tavares Draws Numbers, That's How He Uses His Teammates to Hurt You: It continues with Weber joined by not one but two more Predators. As Tavares skates from the corner, he lures the winger down the boards, then makes a subtle move to convince the winger to turn back. By the time Tavares is rid of the puck, three Predators are focused on him...which means they better get him/the puck or two Islanders are going to be open.
Smartly, Lee takes one of them (Cody Hodgson) out by meeting him with a check in the corner at the very moment when the three Predators think their triple-team has forced a turnover.
Tavares Escapes the Crowd, Creates Danger from a 'Non-Dangerous' Place: Obviously behind the net is not a benign place, or else they never would have called it "Gretzky's Office." (Or Federko's Office. That was a thing.) But it takes a special player to consistently turn this spot into an area of real threat rather than just a spot to wear opponents down and hopefully create an opening.
After Lee prevented Hodgson from winning the puck, it went to Ryan Strome, also behind the goal line in the opposite corner. No one chases Tavares behind the net -- that'd be crazy, right? Roman Josi has to go challenge Strome, while Weber has to cover behind Josi in case Tavares comes out front and does someth-- oh crap, too late it already happened.
Strome and Lee Complement Tavares Perfectly: Strome patiently waits both for: 1) Josi to reach him so that he can't peel off to cover Tavares and 2) for Tavares to arrive behind the net so that he can receive the puck and swoop in front, all in one stride.
The whole thing happens so fast, you almost don't realize that the man Lee has beaten to the front of the net to cash in Tavares' perfect pass is...Cody Hodgon, the guy Lee hit in the corner to keep this play arrive.
Of course this goal was a group effort, with each linemate doing his part. But it starts with the focus Tavares is able to draw from the opponents, which keeps them off balance and inevitably less concerned about his linemates than about him.
Tavares had many of these attributes when he arrived as an NHLer at age 19, but the improvements he made in his skating over his second and third year were critical to this one. He doesn't keep Weber chasing, nor draw two more Predators toward the corner, without the strength and balance on his skates to pull off these subtle, destabilizing moves.
...all of which is to spend 600 words and 20 seconds of video to say John Tavares is a treasure and you should cherish this era and every game he plays in your favorite team's uniform.