In the Bible, Jesus encourages His listeners to count the cost of following Him. John Tavares, Mark Streit and the New York Islanders seem to be learning a similar lesson about what it takes to win in the NHL.
In the past two weeks, the Islanders have honored two former players, Ken Morrow and Pat Flatley, with induction into the franchise Hall of Fame. These were tough, gritty men who knew the price that had to be paid to win. Morrow even came back in a playoff series after having his knee operated on.
Perhaps their example has rubbed off on the team. Over the past three games, the team has finally begun to show what Evgeni Nabokov called the "swagger" of a winner. This was best exemplified by Tavares.
In a 5-1 win over the vaunted Detroit Red Wings, he began the second period by taking an ugly looking puck to the face and was taken to the dressing room. He was hardly done though. He came back that same period to get a goal and an assist, creating what I jokingly called the Tavares Hat Trick—a puck to the face, a goal and an assist in the same period.
In the following game against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Isles thoroughly outplayed their rivals, but were bested 3-2 on the strength of otherworldly goaltending by Sergei Bobrovsky. Tavares punctuated the loss by slamming his stick against the boards in disgust as the buzzer sounded.
That sort of attitude was par for the course with the Dynasty Islanders. On being named captain, Mark Streit gushed with pride about continuing a tradition exemplified by Bryan Trottier. Of course, while Trots was a great player and leader, he was never captain of the Isles.
The Isles' captain during the Dynasty years was, of course, Denis Potvin. Streit, Tavares and their teammates would do well to view his Legends video. Potvin, Trots, Mike Bossy and Billy Smith talk about Potvin's fanatical zeal for winning and his insistence on not only being good, but great.
These were the qualities that made Potvin a great captain. He would not have tolerated any player being what current Islanders coach Jack Capuano calls a "passenger." The current Islander squad needs to continue to project that attitude. They may fall short of the playoffs as they have dug themselves a rather large hole, being 10 full points out of the final playoff spot.
Developing a winning culture, however, is—in the words of the MasterCard commercial—priceless. Tavares, Streit and teammates need to demonstrate that they get it. This team cannot afford passengers and it must regard every loss as a personal insult. That's the sort of attitude that wins championships.