On February 28th, Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares will make his return to Long Island to face the team he left in free agency.
Tavares was in familiar territory on Sunday night, as the Leafs faced off against Tavares' old cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers, and fell 4-1 thanks to a strong performance from 23-year-old Alexandar Georgiev, who gave himself quite the birthday present with a 55-save performance.
Following the game, Tavares spoke to New York media members reporters about the loss, but fielded a number of questions on his nearing return to Nassau Coliseum. When asked if he has any regrets about how the situation unfolded, the Toronto product explained that he wouldn't change a thing.
While he'll undoubtedly face a heavy amount of jeers, the former Islanders captain wants to treat it like any other game, but knows it'll be different considering he spent nine years as the face of the franchise.
“Obviously, it’ll be nice to see a lot of familiar faces and be back in a place that...still does mean a lot to me in my career,” Tavares said. “As best I can, I’ll try to treat it like any other game. Obviously, it probably won’t be like that . . . Whatever the reception is, I’ll just focus on playing and trying to play well.”
The Islanders blanked the Leafs 4-0 in Toronto back on December 29th in his first appearance against the Isles. While many predicted the Islanders would falter without Tavares, the team holds a five-point cushion over the defending Stanley Cup champions for first place in the Metropolitan Division and are one point ahead of the Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings.
Sitting tied for second in goal scoring with Patrick Kane and Jeff Skinner, Tavares has potted 33 goals and 27 assists for 60 points in 55 games in his first season with the Maple Leafs after signing a seven-year, $77-million contract on July 1st.
The Barry Trotz-coached club has the least amount of goals per game allowed in the entire league with 2.33 after finishing with the most allowed last season with 3.57.
Tavares finished the game against the Rangers with a -3 rating, posted eight shots on goal in 19:39 of ice-time and was flat out robbed by Georgiev.