John Tavares controversially left the Islanders in the offseason to sign a seven-year, $77 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, his hometown team.
But at the All-Star break, his Maple Leafs trail the Islanders in the Eastern Conference standings by one point.
"They're having a tremendous season. Obviously, it's a complete 180 on the defensive side," Tavares said, according to Newsday's Mark Herrmann. "Goaltending has been a big part of that, but just not giving up a whole lot defensively and it's leading to a lot of success, a lot of wins."
New York is 15-3-1 in its last 18 games and has given up the fewest goals among all 31 NHL teams this season. The Islanders have 63 points this season, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning (76) in the East. Toronto, meanwhile, has 62 points and a 30-17-2 record through 49 games.
Tavares has scored more goals (30) than any Islanders player -- Anders Lee has a team-high 18 goals this season -- and Toronto has three players with at least 50 points, while the Islanders' points leader is Mathew Barzal with 45.
But even without Tavares' firepower, the Islanders are confident in themselves.
"I don't know if I'm surprised, but it's maybe a little bit different from what people pegged us as," Barzal said. "I think we kind of like that. We weren't pegged to do everything at the start of the year. So we had a lot of guys who wanted to prove something this year, a lot of guys getting a lot of opportunity, and we're definitely making the most of it."
Tavares said he has still kept in contact with some of his former teammates but made it a point to say his priority is with Toronto.
"I know a lot of people there, a lot of the guys that I'm still very close with, have great friendships with," he said. "It's great to see they're doing well, but my focus obviously is on helping the Maple Leafs and controlling what I can control. But they're having a very good season."