NEWARK -- The mystery of John Tavares' absence from Saturday afternoon's game took a little while to solve, though when it finally was revealed after the Islanders' 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils that Tavares simply had come down with an illness, it seemed the long wait before that information was revealed was a bit unnecessary.
The mystery of why the Islanders waited almost a full period to start going toe-to-toe with the feisty Devils was never quite solved. The Isles pulled themselves together to rally from 2-0 down and grab a point, but those first 15 minutes were enough to negate their strong play during the last 50 and keep them winless in their last two games, though they earned a point in each.
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"We put ourselves behind a rock early on," said Anders Lee, whose power-play goal off a smart feed from Marek Zidlicky cut the Devils' lead to 2-1 at 1:39 of the second period. "We didn't play all that bad the rest of the way, but that start really ruined it for us."
Frans Nielsen's shorthanded goal on a one-on-two rush tied the score at 10:26 of the second, part of another strong game for the Islanders' top-ranked penalty kill, which has 26 straight successes. The Devils had only two shots on Jaroslav Halak in the next 29 minutes, mustering their only two shots on net in the third period with less than 40 seconds to play.
"Those last two periods, finally, that's the way we should be playing," coach Jack Capuano said. "There's a certain style we have to play and we saw it today for a good 50 minutes."
Mike Cammalleri's fourth-round shootout goal left the Isles with a 6-2-3 record after their first shootout of the season. The Devils are 6-1 in their last seven games.
The pregame warmups took on an ominous tone after it was announced that Taylor Beck had been recalled on an emergency basis from Bridgeport and there was no familiar No. 91 on the Prudential Center ice. The Islanders announced that Tavares, their captain, would miss the game and that Capuano would issue an update after the game ended, leaving the door open for wild speculation around North America's hockey/social media sector.
But Tavares, like housemate Ryan Strome (who sat out Thursday night's game because of illness and returned to action Saturday), was simply under the weather. "The last day or so, he didn't look right to me," Capuano said. "And he definitely wasn't right this morning when we got here. So we made sure he got evaluated and got him out of here."
It wasn't as if the Devils' top-end skaters put the Isles in a hole. Recent waiver pickup Bobby Farnham, an undrafted 26-year-old with 14 NHL games under his belt, got into the Devils' lineup for the first time and made an immediate impact.
He drove the Isles' net early to help free a rebound that John Moore netted for a 1-0 lead at 2:51 of the first. The Devils had the first six shots on goal in the game's first five minutes. They mustered only 11 through the last 60, but Farnham rushed on to a missed shot that banked off the end boards and fired it past Halak at 14:36 of the first.
"That's probably the best overall game we've played this year; we just didn't get the two points," Capuano said. "Hopefully we can build off that."