After missing two months following knee surgery -- his third operation of 2008 following hip surgery in March and knee surgery in June -- the Islanders' franchise goaltender came back last Friday against the Maple Leafs and made 28 saves to help the Isles snap a 10-game losing streak.
The next day, the Islanders left for Buffalo, but DiPietro stayed behind due to a sore groin. It originally was thought coach Scott Gordon smartly didn't want to use DiPietro in back-to-back games right off the hop, and any soreness was the residue of him playing one time since a one-period outing back on Oct. 25. And Gordon said he expected DiPietro would be in the net for Monday's game against the Rangers.
DiPietro took the ice for Monday's morning skate at Madison Square Garden, and was off quickly, leading reporters in attendance to believe he would be the starter against the Rangers.
Instead, Yann Danis was an emergency recall from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League to back up Joey MacDonald. And Gordon again was left answering questions about his franchise goaltender.
Gordon said DiPietro's latest injury was the kind you would see in training camp. So does that mean DiPietro would have been better served with more practice time, or even a conditioning stint in the AHL?
Gordon defended his decision to play DiPietro, saying the goalie was on the ice for two weeks before he got into the lineup. Now, it's unclear when he'll be back in the lineup.
Injuries have decimated the Islanders this season, but fans got a glimpse of just what the team could do Friday night. Gordon preaches an up-tempo, heavy forechecking attack, which is helped by a back end that quickly can move the puck. Without DiPietro, implementing that system has been a slow, sometimes painful process. With the netminder, whose biggest asset is his puckhandling, you get games like Friday's. DiPietro set up the game's first goal, by Kyle Okposo. The assist was his 14th, which moved him past Billy Smith for the all-time franchise mark.
"That was different tonight," Gordon said after Friday's game. "We were able to go on the attack after most of Ricky's saves."
"Ricky's a leader and guys look up to him," added team captain Bill Guerin. "If he's playing responsibly and doing the things he's supposed to do, guys will definitely feed off that."
It's unclear now when they'll get their next meal.
Prospect-free zone -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have scouts at the 2009 World Junior Championship, but they're one of two teams -- along with Minnesota -- without a prospect among the 10 teams in Ottawa.
Penguins Assistant General Manager Chuck Fletcher said he isn't concerned that this represents a lack of quality prospects in the system. Instead, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he believes the club is "deep" in prospects.
"We think we have a lot of good young players at every position," Fletcher said. "We feel our overall depth is good. We're able to compete at a pretty high level in the American Hockey League with quite a few young players. We have a few good players in junior and in the U.S. college ranks, as well."
Mario memories -- Much was made of Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone returning to Pittsburgh last week for the first time since leaving as a free agent this past summer.
While it certainly was an emotional return for Malone, a Pittsburgh native, his coach also has good memories from his time in town. Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet played three seasons with the Penguins, and was part of the 1992 Stanley Cup champions. Most of his time in Pittsburgh was spent at right wing a line centered by Mario Lemieux.
"I tell a story that one game I never got out of our end to center ice and I had four assists," Tocchet told reporters. "I just chipped it to Mario and the next thing I knew I had four assists. That's how good it was playing with Mario Lemieux."
Laying it on the line -- It's obvious Rangers coach Tom Renney is more than just frustrated by his team's recent play.
After racing out of the gate with a 10-2-1 mark, they entered the week just 12-11-2 since then. And in their two games prior to Monday's meeting with the Islanders, they turned a 4-0 lead at home against Washington last Tuesday into a 5-4 overtime loss, and then in the first game after the holiday break, they fell behind the Devils 2-0 in the first four minutes of the game en route to a 4-2 loss at Madison Square Garden.
Their Atlantic Division lead is down to two points over the Flyers, and four points over the Devils.
"Awful. It's brain-dead hockey," Renney told reporters after the Devils game. "You try and cheat your way to a win right off the bat. If we don't start the hockey game down 2-0, we have a chance to win. We would have something to build on. It's a tough way to start the game.
"I can tell you I'm not happy with how our team played. I'm not happy with the performances of some very key members of our hockey club who need to be better. They need to step up and start taking charge of this hockey club and start playing the way they can."
Players know that stretches like this bring changes, something no one wants.
"If you don't win, there are changes," Rangers defenseman Paul Mara said to the Journal News. "We don't want that. This is the best group of guys I have ever played with. And you ask 22 guys in this locker room and they'll all say the same thing. We all want to be here, but we have to start winning."
For that to happen, Renney said he needs to see more production, and fast.
"They (the leaders) need to step up and start taking charge of this hockey club and start playing the way they can," said Renney. "If we do that, we won't have to worry about making personnel changes. We'll strengthen ourselves internally by how we choose to play. Nobody has to worry about their jobs at all. Show up. Play hard. Compete. Battle. Want it bad enough. Have some urgency in your game."
Lesson learned -- As an 18-year-old NHL rookie, Luca Sbisa is learning about life as a professional hockey player. And part of that process is learning personal accountability, on and off the ice.
Sbisa figured it out the hard way when he was scratched from last Tuesday's game against the Senators because he missed a meeting prior to the pre-game skate. Sbisa overslept because he said he couldn't figure out the alarm clock on a new cell phone.
"It's new," Sbisa said, "but it's my own fault. It's not the best thing, especially given the situation right now with (Randy) Jones coming back before Christmas. I can't change it."
Sbisa had sat out Sunday's game against the Devils so Jones could make his season debut, but coach John Stevens said the only reason Sbisa sat out Tuesday was because he missed the meeting.
"He got a new phone where he didn't figure out the alarm, but I'm sure that will be a lesson he won't soon forget. He's a great kid. It's all part of growing up and being a good pro."
-- John Stevens, Flyers coach commenting on Luca Sbisa
Baby brother is watching -- Brian Rolston has enough to worry about with the Devils, but he'll be keeping an eye on the World Junior Championship. His older brother, Ron, is coaching the U.S. team.
"These are big games for him," Brian Rolston told the New York Post. "It's a big international stage, especially being held in Canada. … He'll have his team prepared. It will be a well-coached team. And I'm excited for him."
Brian also likely is excited to see 2008 come to end. The new year can't be any worst than the old one.
While his goal 2:54 into Saturday's 4-2 win against the Rangers snapped a team-record 159:18 scoring drought, there hasn't been much else for him to write home about.
He returned to the team he started his NHL career with over the summer, played four games and then missed six weeks with a sprained ankle. He's still looking to rediscover his game, and then last Tuesday's game against the Bruins was nothing short of disastrous.
He was on the ice for both goals in the 2-0 loss, but before that, he was sitting on the bench during a penalty kill when he was hit in the head by a puck shot into the bench by teammate John Madden. X-rays proved negative, but Rolston needed stitches in his chin and his helmet was broken.
"It hit me hard, no question," Rolston told reporters. "I think I'm pretty fortunate it didn't hit me square."
News and notes -- With the Spectrum closing after the 2008-09 season, the Flyers are seeking a new home for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor, the parent company of the Flyers and Phantoms, said relocation sites are being discussed, and selling the Phantoms remains another -- less favorable -- option. "We could move the team, we could sell them, we could find another affiliate," Luukko told reporters. "We're still working it all out and probably won't have it all figured out until after the New Year." Luukko ruled out New Jersey destinations like Atlantic City or Trenton, as well as having the Phantoms play at the Wachovia Center. … Flyers center Daniel Briere, who has missed the last 12 games with a groin strain, traveled with the team to Vancouver and could play sometime during the team's current eight-game road trip. … Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador will play Tuesday in St. Louis, the place he spent his first seven NHL seasons prior to being traded to the Devils last February. Salvador had missed the last five games with an inner-ear infection. His return comes as defenseman Colin White remains home with an upper-body injury. He won't play Tuesday and is questionable for Wednesday's game in Dallas. … Bill Guerin scored twice last Friday to become the eighth U.S.-born player to reach 400 NHL goals, but No. 399 came at the expense of rookie Josh Bailey, who was denied his first. Bailey was announced as the goal-scorer, but he and Guerin knew who the rightful owner was. "It was kind of an awkward feeling because they announced it and, obviously, everybody has been waiting for Josh to get his first NHL goal," Guerin told Newsday. "He knew it, I knew it. It was just awkward. I just kind of said, 'Sorry, buddy. Sorry I got in the way.' But he knew it right away. No player wants that. They want their goal to be their goal, their first goal." … Maybe the Rangers were doomed going into last Tuesday's game against the Capitals. New York Times writer Lynn Zinser noticed during the nightly pre-game arena preparations that one of the scoreboards at Madison Square Garden read Capitals 5, Rangers 3. After the game, the scoreboard read Capitals 5, Rangers 4. … Sidney Crosby's game-winning goal last Monday against Buffalo was his first winner in 36 games, dating to March 9 of last season. … For the second straight year, Crosby was ranked No. 1 on The Hockey News' list of the "100 People of Power and Influence" in the hockey world. Flyers chairman Ed Snider was No. 13, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was No. 16 and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was No. 41.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.