ATLANTA (AP) _ No one will blame Ilya Kovalchuk if visions of New York
Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro haunt him the next few days.
DiPietro turned aside all eight of Kovalchuk's shots, many of them in
spectacular fashion, to help the Islanders beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-0
``There's not many guys that can take on NHL defensemen one-on-one and make
something happen like he does. I was really impressed with his game,'' DiPietro
said of Kovalchuk. ``I was just trying to be patient. He's pretty nifty and he
makes a lot of pump fakes. I was just trying to stay on my feet as long as
Kovalchuk also hit the crossbar once and shot wide a handful of times.
Islanders coach Steve Stirling admitted he cringed as Kovalchuk broke in
alone on DiPietro once short-handed and another time on the power play. But he
has confidence in DiPietro, who is emerging as New York's No. 1 goalie.
``He's a pretty competitive kid. He's heard the hype,'' said Stirling of
DiPietro, a former top overall pick in the NHL draft. ``Rick was equal to the
Asked if he took shutting down Kovalchuk as a personal challenge, DiPietro
said he was more interested in taking on Atlanta goaltender Pasi Nurminen.
``Nurminen beat me in the Calder Cup finals a couple years ago and I haven't
had a chance to beat him this year so this was a big game for me personally to
come out and play well,'' DiPietro said. ``It was two big points. This team's
right behind us in the standings.''
DiPietro made 25 saves to earn his second career shutout, both this season.
The eighth-place Islanders moved four points ahead of the Thrashers in the
Eastern Conference playoff race and snapped Atlanta's three-game unbeaten
The Islanders' suddenly potent power play struck three times against an
Atlanta team that began play with the top-rated penalty-killing unit in the
``We've been hounding on it,'' Stirling said.
The Islanders are 12-for-45 with the man advantage in their past nine games.
DiPietro struggled at the start of the season and asked to be sent to the
minors to work on his game in late December. He has won four straight starts,
including two in 24 hours as the Islanders defeated Carolina 3-2 on Friday.
``I was comfortable at the beginning of the season,'' he said. ``Just
getting a chance to play now, play on a consistent basis, and that goes a long
way with a goalie's confidence.''
DiPietro, who has relegated veteran Garth Snow to backup status, earned high
praise from his teammates.
``Ever since he came back up he's played the way we expected he could
play,'' said Jason Blake, who was denied on a penalty shot midway through the
Blake added that Kovalchuk should have had ``four or five'' goals. Kovalchuk
didn't speak to reporters after the game.
The Islanders opened the scoring while Atlanta's Ben Simon served a
four-minute high sticking penalty. Mattias Weinhandl converted a cross-crease
feed from Oleg Kvasha for his fifth of the season at 9:32 of the first period.
Kvasha made it 2-0 at 4:12 of the third period when he tucked a shot under
Nurminen's arm for his 10th goal, with an assist from DiPietro. Arron Asham
then scored in the game's waning seconds.
The Islanders have won two straight road games after going winless in their
previous five away from home.