It doesn’t happen very often, but when Isles captain John Tavares doesn’t play, his team struggles. Tavares saw his ironman streak end this weekend, and his absence had predictable consequences for the team. Despite stretches of strong – occasionally dominant – play, the Isles succumbed to the New Jersey Devils and fell by a score of 2-1. Tavares sat out the game against the Devils on Saturday night due to a lower body injury. The game is the first Tavares has missed in over three calendar years, and just the fourth overall he’s missed since joining the Islanders at the start of the 2009-10 season. Prior to Saturday Tavares missed the only other games of his NHL career when he sat out three consecutive games in October of 2010 due to a mild concussion. Even at that early stage of his career his loss was sharply felt – the team scored a 6-4 win over the Rangers, then suffered a 2-1 loss to Washington and a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh. Upon his return, the team rattled off three straight wins. Since Tavares entered the league, the Isles are 1-3 in games in which he has not played. With the team’s offensive game already on shaky ground, it seems safe to say missing Tavares for any extended period would be disastrous.
The more pessimistic of the fan base might be inclined to mention that the Isles aren’t exactly setting the league on fire even when Tavares is in the lineup. Looking strictly at the team’s record, that could appear to be the case. However, of the team’s 21 losses this season, twelve of them were lost by more than one goal, and just ten by more than two goals. That means that the Isles had a fighting chance in roughly half the games they lost, and a bounce or two could have made all the difference in the world. To say nothing of the confidence Tavares inspires simply by being in the lineup, his offensive contributions have been significant not just in the wins but the defeats as well. Given the number of games in which Tavares recorded at least one point, it seems fairly safe to assume the differential would have been more insurmountable in those close matches.
The missed game ended his consecutive games-played streak at 246 games, previously the longest active streak on the team and fifth longest all-time. The longest streak in team history was compiled by Billy Harris, who appeared in 576 consecutive games from 1973 through 1980. The mantle now passes to Frans Nielsen, whose 168 games leads the current crop.