John Tavares is only three preseason games into his NHL career, and his coach is already seeing improvements from the new face of the New York Islanders.
"It's night and day different from the first game," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said after his team's 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night. "He made some nice plays offensively. His decision-making was probably the best that I've seen in three games."
Tavares, the No. 1 overall pick this year, earned an assist in his first game in front of his new fans, but it wasn't enough. The Islanders (2-4-1), who had the league's worst record last season, are counting on Tavares to help the team rebuild as the club works to secure a new arena and stay on Long Island.
The 19-year-old forward gave fans something to cheer about, when his short pass helped set up Matt Moulson's tying goal during a power play 2:28 into the third period. It was his second assist in three preseason games, and Moulson's fourth goal in four contests.
Islanders owner Charles Wang is hoping to get government approval to build the "Lighthouse Project" that would include a new Nassau Coliseum. Without that, Wang said the team can't survive on Long Island.
Tavares was greeted warmly by the crowd announced as 8,256 when he jumped onto to the ice for his first Long Island shift just 26 seconds into the game.
"I tried to focus on just playing the game, but it was awesome," Tavares said. "To get a response like that was pretty special."
Olivier Magnan-Grenier snapped a third-period tie to lift the Devils to the victory. New Jersey has won its first two preseason games that were spaced one week apart.
The Devils began a stretch of three games in four nights and will complete their five-game preseason schedule with a rematch against the Islanders in New Jersey on Tuesday.
New Jersey (2-0) took a pair of one-goal leads in the second period when Vladimir Zharkov and captain Jamie Langenbrunner scored on power plays.
Zharkov was positioned perfectly to stuff in a shot from the right post at 4:11 when Brian Rolston's hard drive from inside the blue line scooted through the pads of Martin Biron and over to him.
Langenbrunner, who wasn't in the lineup last Wednesday for New Jersey's other preseason game, made it 2-1 with 5:25 left in the period. Nicklas Bergfors took a feed from Rolston and skated into the left circle. He sent a crossing pass that eluded the stick of Islanders forward Richard Park and got through to Langenbrunner who scored from the right post.
"I was obviously a little rusty ... but it was good to get back out there," Langenbrunner said.
Park had gotten the Islanders even at 1 with a wraparound goal that he jammed past goalie Yann Danis at 6:21 of the second.
Danis, who has played the whole way in each of New Jersey's games, made 20 saves. Biron stopped 27 shots.
Bergfors made it 4-2 with an empty-net goal with 1:01 left.
NOTES: Devils G Martin Brodeur is expected to play Thursday at Philadelphia. ... Islanders G Rick DiPietro skated in the morning, but there is no timetable for his return to the lineup. ... The Islanders assigned LW Sean Bentivoglio, LW Justin DiBenedetto, C Tyler Haskins, LW Jesse Joensuu, G Nathan Lawson, and RW Tony Romano to Bridgeport of the AHL before the game.