Rick DiPietro will not finish among the NHL's goaltending leaders this season, and that's fine. After all, after missing so much time thanks to hip and knee injuries, baby steps make the most sense.
And at this point, the first step will be not to be a story anymore.
"When we can stop talking about this, it will be a great day," DiPietro told reporters Saturday night after a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. "But again, that's on me to prove I can stay healthy and help this team win."
His first win on him ice in seemingly forever was obviously emotional.
"I was trying not to cry on the ice," DiPietro said. "That's the one thing I told myself. I wouldn't cry. It's an emotional time for me. It's been a long time coming and it's been a rough road. Just to get the win was amazing."
Remember, it wasn't that long ago the DiPietro, still only 28, was the cornerstone for the Islanders, signed to a 15-year contract. But the long fight back to the crease has tended to make him something of an unknown as he tries to reclaim the form that made him such a coveted player.
"Ricky, the last few years before the injuries, came into his own and proved he could play at a high level," Islanders captain Doug Weight told the New York Post. "Obviously, they have a huge stake in getting him back and keeping him healthy, and you've seen it in the way they've been careful with him. He's a key component around here and I expect him to do well."
And in an Olympic year, you have to remember that DiPietro was considered one of the United States' top guys in the crease for tournaments like the Olympics and World Cup. Back in 2006, DiPietro was the goalie headed to Torino for the United States and the Sabres' Ryan Miller was the one coming back from injury. In 2010, the tables have turned.
"I saw him briefly on the way in to the building and talked to him," Miller told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. "I'm really happy he's playing. You don't want to see someone with that much talent and leadership on his team have his career threatened, especially at his age. Down the line, I'm glad he's back and he's healthy. This is what he was meant to be doing."
DiPietro says the time away and the countless hours of rehabbing have provided some perspective to savor the benefits of his job.
"As much as this has been a bad thing, it's been a good thing as far as being able to step back, realize how lucky I am to be a professional athlete, all those things you take for granted coming to the rink every day," DiPietro told Newsday's Arthur Staple. "This is hopefully a learning experience, and I'm happy that it's almost over. When we can stop talking about [the injuries], it'll be a great day."
Tactical to be practical -- Rookie defenseman Mark Fraser had one of those nights in Phoenix Thursday where the New Jersey Devils lost to the Coyotes, deflecting the puck into his own end in a 4-1 loss.
Coach Jacques Lemaire told Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger that he planned to speak with the 23-year-old Fraser, but the conversation would not take the form of a reprimand.
"Tactical," Lemaire said of the nature of the talk.
"Definitely you get upset when it happens," Lemaire said. "You're wondering what the guys is thinking at that moment. Then after you settle down and think about it, it's a mistake that can happen to anybody. Anybody."
Even to a Hall of Famer as Lemaire confessed to Chere.
"I shot one in my own net," Lemaire said. "I wanted to rim the puck around and I cut it short too much because I was looking at the curve of the rink. And I shot it right in the corner. In Chicago. So I had one more goal in Chicago."
Lemaire said he didn't feel the wrath of coach Scotty Bowman at the time, perhaps the impetus for Lemaire not being harsh with Fraser. "He never said a word. Because, you know what? I was not the first one or the last one either."
You mean, like the NHL? -- You could well understand if Alexander Pechurski asked for further clarification when he got the word from Tri-City American coach Jim Hiller that he was heading to Vancouver to join the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With Marc-Andre Fleury sidelined by a broken left ring finger, the Penguins needed a backup for Saturday's game against the Canucks. So Pechurski got the goal shortly after earning a 3-2 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds in a Western Hockey League game Friday night.
And, he got to play against the Canucks, replacing starter John Curry, who allowed 5 goals in a 6-2 Vancouver win. Pechurski made 12 stops.
"I think that's the definition of getting thrown into the fire," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told Sam Kasan of the Penguins' Web site. "He got the call last night and wore Flower's pads in his performance is a lot to ask of a young kid. He played fantastic. He stood in there, was confident and even the way he handled the puck, you could tell he was in the moment and confident. He did a real good job for us."
"We needed a change regardless of who was the backup," Bylsma said. "The team needed the change no matter which player was going in. It happened to be a 19-year-old kid in his first month in North America and using Flower's pads. That did cross my mind but the team needed it and the kid went in and did a good job."
Pechurski had to wear Fleury's pads because his junior pads did to conform to NHL regulations.
"I was very surprised to play," said Pechurski, the Pens' fifth-round pick in 2008. "At the same time I was happy I had a chance to play. It was a dream coming true playing in the NHL."
Pechurski was named the game's No. 3 star and received an ovation by the GM Place crowd when he curtain called on the ice.
"He showed a lot of poise," Sidney Crosby told Kasan. "That's not an easy situation to come into. They had a lot of momentum and they were still creating some chances when he came in. He showed a lot of guts coming in like that and then playing the way he did, that's a tough way to come in and he passed the test big time."
Net gains for Flyers -- There figures to be a lot of goalie talk around Philadelphia for a while, but for the moment, it appears that Michael Leighton and Ray Emery will play with Brian Boucher the odd-man out.
With Emery sidelined by abdominal surgery earlier this season, Leighton was picked up on waivers from Carolina on Dec. 15 and has been a huge plus for the Flyers. He is 8-1-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
"You have to give him a ton of credit," Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese said of Leighton. "This was a kid who was on his way to the minors and maybe never to find his way back to the NHL, and he's taken full advantage of the situation here."
But now that he is back, Emery wants to reclaim the No. 1 job.
"I want to play as much as I can," Emery told reporters before taking the loss Sunday against the Caps. "Having the injury was tough. I came back kind of ready to play, but when your team is winning like they are, it's tough to mess with a successful lineup. I just want to be ready when I get a chance."
But pushing Leighton out of the way may be tougher than anticipated.
"This is the first opportunity Michael has gotten to play in a starting role," Laviolette told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "When he was backing up with Carolina, the situations he was dealt weren't the best in nature. It was the seventh game in 11 nights, and it was probably on the tail end of a back-to-back with travel to Dallas or Buffalo. Now he's getting a fresh team and getting the Grade-A opportunity to show what he can do, and he's answered."
"Everything has kind of come together at the right time for him," Reese said. "I've been impressed with his demeanor. He's very calm, cool, and collected and doesn't seem to get too high or too low. Certainly for a goalie, that's a big plus."
Around the Atlantic -- Devils forward Patrik Elias was deemed OK after a full medical evaluation in Denver Saturday after he was checked by the Avalanche's Ryan Wilson. Following the hit, Elias was taken off the ice on a stretcher. He went to a Denver hospital for a CT scan. Elias will not play Monday against the Islanders at the least. "The doctors have communicated that with something like this with the results of the tests that were made and so forth, you just give it a couple of days and see what's up then," GM Lou Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "There's no examination that you could do right now." Lamoriello did not use the term "Concussion" to describe Elias' injury. "I don't want to put any term on it," he said. "He had quite a jolt. I'm not a doctor, nor has that term been used by doctors. But, as I said, we'll see how he feels during the week and exactly what their (the team doctors') diagnosis is." … Good news on the injury front for New Jersey as Dainius Zubrus is skating and could be back this week. Zubrus last played on Nov. 19 at Nashville, when he was hurt blocking a shot. He has 2 goals and 5 assists in 20 games. Forward David Clarkson (leg) and defenseman Paul Martin (arm) remain out for a couple more weeks. For the Rangers, Donald Brashear is listed as day to day with a hamstring injury. … Flyers coach Peter Laviolette isn't going to be lavish in his praise of the Flyers if this statement is any indication. Heading into play against the Capitals Sunday, the Flyers were 8-2-1 since Dec. 23. But … "To be honest, I think our game slipped a little bit even with the wins," Laviolette told Wayne Fish of the Bucks County Courier Times. "It wasn't as hard-pounding with the skating and our battles weren't quite where they needed to be. It fell apart in Toronto. We just weren't very good. We need to be a lot sharper and more competitive than what we were. I think we will be." … Marc-Andre Fleury earned a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night in spite of playing with a broken left ring finger. He is listed as day to day.