The New York Islanders will do everything they can to treat it like just another game, but they admitted it will be a bit different when they look across the ice on Saturday and see John Tavares wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.
“Once the puck drops, I think you’re playing another game,” forward Josh Bailey said in advance of the Islanders’ first game against their former captain (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, CBC, SN1, MSG+, NHL.TV), being played at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. “I understand it, obviously; he spent a long time here. Obviously it’s going to be talked about, especially with it being Saturday night, ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ game. But once the puck drops, everyone settles into their game.
“I think it will be a little bit [weird]. But I think it’s weirder being in his situation; he’s the one who’s got to play his old team and so many guys that he’s close with. For us, it’s just one guy. I’m looking forward to it.”
Tavares, 28, was the No. 1 pick by the Islanders in the 2009 NHL Draft and played his first nine pro seasons in New York, where the center had 621 points (272 goals, 349 assists) in 669 games. He was Islanders captain from 2013 through last season before signing a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs as an unrestricted free agent July 1.