Season series -- Forgive the fans at American Airlines Center if they're wondering who those guys in the white, blue and orange unis are. The teams haven't played since Dallas' 5-3 win on Long Island on Oct. 23, 2008, and this season's only meeting between the teams is also the Isles' first visit to Big D since Nov. 15, 2006, when they blanked the Stars 3-0. New York is 2-0 with a tie at Dallas since its last loss on March 23, 2001.
Big story --This is the night Isles fans have been waiting for. New York's first trip to Dallas in more than three years will mark the return of goaltender Rick DiPietro, who hasn't played an NHL game since Jan, 2, 2009, due to knee injuries that required surgery and extensive rehab. DiPietro made the trip with the Isles and served as Dwayne Roloson's backup at Colorado on Wednesday night. He also played four games with the Isles' AHL farm team in Bridgeport before joining the team.
Ironically, DiPietro was the Isles' goaltender the last time they came to Dallas, gtting the win in the 3-0 victory in 2006.
Islanders --Kyle Okposo got the game-winner with 3:17 left in Colorado, but the goal of the game belonged to rookie Rob Schremp, whose Whack-a-Mole special figures to be an Internet highlight for years. Schremp reached over his head to glove a rebound and managed to get it below crossbar level before whacking it, baseball-style, past Craig Anderson and into the net. The goal was initially waved off, but the call was reversed after a video review.
"That was Robbie at his finest. He is a magician," Okposo said.
"I would never have gotten it off had I let it drop to the ice," Schremp said after the game. "I just whacked at it."
Schremp also had an assist and has started to produce the offense the Isles hoped he'd generate when they claimed him on waivers from Edmonton at the start of the season. No one disputes his skills; if the rest of his game comes around, the Islanders will have found a gold nugget in the NHL's discard pile.
Stars -- The Stars took a big hit in New York that had nothing to do with the 5-2 loss. Center Mike Ribeiro was hit across the throat during the second period and had to leave the game. The Stars said Thursday he'll miss 4-6 weeks with a throat contusion.
Coach Marc Crawford said other players on the roster would have to step up and fill the void left by Ribeiro, who has 33 points in 43 games this season and has led the Stars in scoring in each of the last three seasons.
"Ribeiro is a pretty important player to us, but all teams go through injuries," he said. "We'll get through it, and the way we'll get through it is we'll have everybody step up a little bit and not rely on one person to overcome the important contributions of Mike Ribeiro."
Who's hot -- Schremp has 2 goals and 2 assists in the Isles' last three games. Forward Jon Sim has a three-game goal-scoring streak and has four in five games. … Dallas center Brad Richards had a goal and an assist against the Rangers, giving him 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points in his last five games. Loui Eriksson had an assist in New York and is 5-1-6 in his last five games.
Injury report -- The Islanders might get forward Sean Bergenheim (ribs) back for this game; they are still without forward Tim Jackman, who's expected to miss another three weeks or so with an eye injury. … The Stars were as healthy as could be expected at this time of year before losing Ribeiro.
Stat pack -- Isles rookie John Tavares has gone cold, scoring just once in the last 13 games after getting 15 goals in New York's first 31. Okposo has just 7 goals, but four of them are game-winners. … Dallas has lost three in a row, its longest losing streak of the season. The Stars lead the NHL with 11 losses in games that went beyond regulation, including eight in shootouts.
Puck drop -- This is a game the Stars really need to win -- it's their lone stop at home in a stretch in which they play five of six on the road. The Islanders' 5-1-1 run has gotten them back to .500, and the impending return of DiPietro, whether in Dallas or sometime else, should give the Isles a boost. As good as Dwayne Roloson has been in goal, the Islanders traditionally have been a better team with "DP" in goal.