Toronto Maple Leafs: What is going on with John Tavares?

Something is going on with John Tavares.

It would be inconsiderate to criticize the Toronto Maple Leafs Captain if there was no merit to the critique. It would also be rash to say that John Tavares has been playing poorly over the course of his cold streak.

Because that isn’t the case. Tavares has played fairly well over the course of his last six games, throwing 18 shots on net. That included a breakaway chance in the first period on Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators.

But, on Thursday night, Tavares ended that drought with his first and only shot of the night. Head Coach Sheldon Keefe put Marner on his line in the final frame and, at 16:53 in the third period, Tavares rifled a shot bar-down to beat Ottawa Senators goalie Matt Murray to make it a 7-3 game.

Sure, his goal came in crunch time when it didn’t matter. And this was only Tavares’ second even-strength goal of the season. He’s done all of the right things on both ends of the ice for Keefe and may have taken on a different role as of late but, if it wasn’t for that late shot, we might be sitting here talking about a seven-game goalless streak instead.

Tavares had a strong start to the year with five points (2 G, 3 A) in his first two games. And since then he played fairly well racking up some assists, before the back of the net became something of a past time. He has 16 points (6 G, 10 A) on the year thus far and these numbers would surely suggest he’s been in fine form. But, interestingly enough, 44 percent of his points total thus far this year has come on the power play. He has seven power play points (4 G, 3 A).

John Tavares (91)

John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Count on John Tavares to figure things out for the Toronto Maple Leafs soon

If Tavares continues to do the right things, surely he will be rewarded. Hard work is always rewarded. But if Sheldon Keefe doesn’t give Tavares someone like a red-hot Mitch Marner to play with, or even Joe Thornton to give the Leafs Captain a spark, we might continue to sit here and ponder on how the rest of the year will pan out for number 91. Because, as the leader of the second power play unit, William Nylander and Tavares lead the charge and they’re supported by Mikko Lehtonen, Nic Petan and Jason Spezza.

What is also quite confounding about John Tavares’ current woes has nothing to do with this season or his play on the ice. Rather, his track record in the NHL would suggest this year was meant to be an off year anyway.

Tavares was drafted First overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders and became the focal point of the team straight away. In his first two seasons, Tavares earned 54 points (24 G, 30 A) in his rookie season (2009-10) and 67 points (29 G, 38 A) in his sophomore year (2010-11). When it came down to his third season that is when Tavares eclipsed the 80-point margin for the first time in his career.

Now look at his next two seasons. Tavares didn’t get close to an 80-point year. In his sixth year he did and again in his ninth year in the league. The only exception in this argument is signing with Toronto in year 10. Tavares had his best year as a professional with the Maple Leafs with 88 points (47 G, 41 A) in the 2018-19 season.

Last season Tavares only played in 63 games and recorded 60 points (26 G, 34 A). Yes, the argument can be made he could have eclipsed over 80 for the third year in a row. And this year, albeit with a shortened season, Tavares might not have his set sights on that either.

But his personal history will lean more towards the Maple Leafs captain exploding next year. As the season goes on, we’ll have to see if John Tavares can re-enter some consistency on the score board. For now, he’s been playing well as the the North Division leaders are set to take on the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.