John Tavares doesn’t get to watch his former teammates much given the grind of his schedule with the Maple Leafs. But the Islanders’ promising play under new president/general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz is not surprising to their former captain.
The Islanders come out of their Christmas break to play the Senators on Friday night at Barclays Center. Then they face the Maple Leafs and Tavares on Saturday night at Toronto.
“I’ve seen a lot of the boxscores but I haven’t really watched a lot of the games,” Tavares said in a recent telephone conversation with Newsday. “I felt there was really good potential in New York, having Lou come in and bringing in Barry Trotz and some of the consistency there. They’ve always been known for having really good defensive teams and they provide that stability. They’re doing well. Teams are more than one player, maybe more than any professional sport.”
The Islanders (18-13-4) completed a 3-1-0 road trip with a 3-1 win at Dallas on Sunday night before getting three days off.
“It just resets your mind, resets the body a little bit,” current Islanders captain Anders Lee said after Thursday’s practice in East Meadow. “We had a hard practice today, get the legs going again and kind of work out all those cookies.”
“You just look at the schedule coming up, we’ve got a big one against Ottawa,” center Mathew Barzal added. “We need that one because we come out of the gates pretty hot with Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo. Toronto is going to be a fun game. I think it’ll be fun for JT and fun for us as well.”
While Tavares is facing the Islanders for the first time — the Maple Leafs come to NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 28 and April 1 — Saturday will also mark Lamoriello’s return to Toronto after spending the past three seasons as the Maple Leafs GM. Forwards Leo Komarov, signed to a four-year, $12-million deal, and Matt Martin, re-acquired after two seasons with the Maple Leafs, are also returning.
But there’s no doubt much of the attention will be on Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77-million deal with his hometown Maple Leafs shortly after the free agent market opened on July 1.
“Johnny meant so much to this organization and to us in the room, his friends and teammates,” Lee said. “I think we’re all looking forward to playing the game and seeing him. It’s obviously turned into a little more than just a game against the Leafs. It’ll be better if we take care of business on Friday.”
Tavares said his whole first season in Toronto “is going to be a transition feeling my way out.”
But he said he has no idea what Saturday will be like for him.
“It’s hard to really say,” Tavares said. “I’ve never been through anything like this. I’m not sure how it will be but I’ll try to approach it like any other game and help the Leafs get two points. I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions and a lot of feelings toward it because that place made a huge impact on my life and my career.”
Notes & quotes: Goalie Robin Lehner is expected to start against the Senators with Thomas Greiss starting at Toronto…Both right wing Cal Clutterbuck (lower body), who exited Sunday’s win, and defensemen Thomas Hickey (injured reserve/upper body) skated on their own on Thursday. Trotz said Clutterbuck may participate in Friday’s morning skate…Trotz said left wing Andrew Ladd (injured reserve/lower body), who has not played since Nov. 13, continues his off-ice rehab but has not resumed skating. “He’ll be a while.”