The stats—fancy and working-class—from last night's game between the Nashville Predators and the New York Islanders showed a decidedly one-sided affair in almost every category except in the only one that mattered: goals scored.
The Isles came away with a 4-3 victory over the previously undefeated Preds after surviving an opening 25 minutes of game time that saw the listless and generally overmatched Isles just kind of skating around, while Nashville racked up all manner of shots on goal and jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
Four unanswered goals later, though, it was 4-2 Islanders late in the third period and a win was all but assured.
Still, the slow start was an issue the players harped on in their postgame comments: "We didn't come out [in the first period] very well at all. We kind of found ourselves slowly throughout the game," Cal Clutterbuck told reporters in the locker room.
"We had a really slow start and there's really no excuse for that," said John Tavares, who recorded an assist on the Isles' first goal and scored the eventual game-winner. "That's on me: making sure the team is ready. We've got to be ready to play from puck-drop, but I like the way we battled back."
Aside from the comeback win itself, let's address what's really important in Tavares's assessment of the game: how pretty much the first words out of his mouth after a win over a team that earned 104 points last season were about how his leadership skills weren't up to par for, like, maybe 42 minutes of real time yesterday.
A self-criticism in a game where his line sparked the Islanders' comeback and he personally secured the win? Really? Well, yes. (Yes, yes, yes, in fact.)
Tavares is every bit the type of franchise player and captain the Islanders hoped they were getting when they drafted him with the first overall pick in 2009. And it's comments (and points scored) like yesterday's that reinforce his standing as the club's leader.
Tavares is so good at what he does on the ice that most people would forgive him for not voicing to the media the things on which the Islanders have to improve to be considered one of the NHL's elite teams. But he doesn't gloss over anything that needs addressing, which is part-and-parcel to how he serves in the role of captain. Tavares led the charge in yesterday's win and gave the type of reserved, critical sound bite that would make any coach or general manager proud.
The will to "find a way to win" often rings hollow after a loss—why didn't the team just try harder?—but takes on an almost inspirational quality after a hard-fought victory. In sports, there's a fine line between truth and cliché most times.
"When we got going, we started to grind the game out a little bit," said coach Jack Capuano in his postgame press conference. "We weren't dialed in from the start but we found a way to get two points."
"Finding a way" is one of Capuano's favorite lines, which speaks to his belief in his players; even when the team didn't play its best game, the scoreboard still had more goals on the home side than the visitors' when the clock read 00:00.
Tavares is the embodiment of that will to win, which again made itself apparent last night at Barclays Center. To quote Dominik in his venerable analysis of Tavares's game: "John Tavares is a treasure and you should cherish this era and every game he plays in your favorite team's uniform."