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Still a teenager, John Tavares has been a recognized figure in Canada for much of his life. The fans in his native country get their first glimpse of the highly touted prospect as a professional on Thursday night when the Ottawa Senators play their home opener against the New York Islanders.
Tavares, the top overall pick in this year's draft, had an impressive NHL debut in the Islanders' 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, scoring one goal and setting up another. The 19-year-old also nearly scored on a breakaway and was one of two Islanders to miss in the shootout.
New York (0-0-1) failed to protect a one-goal lead in the third period, getting outshot 22-6 over the final 20 minutes of regulation and overtime.
"We were in their face for most of the game," Tavares said. "We played true Islander hockey. The result was disappointing, but we're playing the Stanley Cup champs and there was a lot of positives to take from it."
Tavares, who broke Wayne Gretzky's single-season goals record in the Canadian Hockey League in 2007, has provided hope for a franchise that had the league's worst record last season and is in danger of leaving Long Island if a deal can't be reached on a new arena.
Also coming off a strong performance in the season opener for the Islanders was third-year forward Kyle Okposo, who had an assist while playing on a line with Tavares and Matt Moulson.
"I thought our line played real well," Tavares told the Islanders' official Web site. "We had some good chemistry with me, Matt and Kyle. I felt better out there than I did all preseason. We're really starting to get chemistry with all the guys. Just being in a game like that, it's so exciting."
Captain Doug Weight, entering his 18th season, is expected to play for New York after sitting out the opener with a groin injury. Center Rob Schremp is scheduled to make his Islanders debut after he was claimed off waivers from Edmonton on Sept. 29.
Ottawa (1-1-0) returns home after splitting its season-opening two-game road trip. The Senators opened with a 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Saturday before holding on for a 2-1 victory over Toronto on Tuesday.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson converted a penalty shot and Shean Donovan also scored for Ottawa, which plays four straight and 15 of its next 19 games at home.
"I think it's huge," Donovan told the Senators' official Web site. "Points are just as important now as they are at the end of the season but right now, you've got to get confidence. We've got a lot of new guys and we've got to build something here."
Pascal Leclaire earned his first win with the Senators, stopping 26 shots against the Maple Leafs.
"I liked how we bent but we didn't break and Pascal played very well for us when we needed him," Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said.
Alfredsson's goal was his second of the season, and he figures to have an excellent chance to pick up another Thursday. He has three goals and seven assists during a seven-game point streak against the Islanders.
Center Jason Spezza also has been very productive against New York, tallying six goals and 18 points in his last 13 games.
Ottawa has lost three of four against the Islanders after going 10-1-1 in the previous 12 meetings.