John Tavares is having trouble doing something he usually does with ease: scoring.
In the past seven games, the Isles' captain has been scoreless in 5-on-5 play, and it is starting to get to him. The franchise player needs to score, and he understands that.
"We know we can be a lot more consistent, starting with myself," he told Newsday's Mark Hermann. "All of it starts with me setting an example for the group. So, I've just got to go out there and be really reliable all over the ice. Five on five we'd like to be a lot more productive."
Head coach Doug Weight isn't singling out Tavares alone, though. He wants to see more production from his top-two lines, but he knows they have gotten them to this point in the season.
"Listen, they've carried us the whole year," Weight said. "Johnny's line has been unreal. There's ebbs and flows in seasons. This is February hockey, checking tightens up. I just know they've been working hard, they've been gearing up and when they do break out it's going to be exciting."
For Tavares, free agency gets closer by the day, but there is still a season to finish. It's hard to not think about it, though, when opposing teams' fans dream about him daunting their colors, just like a Maple Leafs fan wearing his No. 91 and name on a customized jersey on Thursday.
But that comes with the territory of being as great as Tavares is.
"I'd say he's the best leader in the NHL," rookie Mathew Barzal said. "I wouldn't want another guy leading the way. Being a younger guy, having a guy like that to look up to, seeing him be one of the best players in the league for eight years and still being one of the hardest working guys is pretty phenomenal."
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock coached Tavares in the 2014 Olympics with Team Canada, and he reiterated what Barzal said about his work ethic.
"Johnny has been highly touted his whole life and he has worked on his game," Babcock said. "Johnny can really shoot and he is strong. He can get the puck and turn his back on you and make you look bad."
If Babcock -- and every other NHL team for that matter -- is hoping to have a shot at Tavares this offseason, that is going to have to wait until just then.
"We still have high hopes for this season," Tavares said.
Tavares is also hoping to break his scoreless streak because he knows he is vital to the team's success.