After hanging tough in the Eastern Conference for the first two months of the season, it looks like the New York Islanders
are on the verge of getting their franchise goaltender back in the fold.
took part in a 90-minute practice with the team Monday, according to Newsday, and an encouraged General Manager Garth Snow
said if all goes well he could be playing with the team by the middle of December.
DiPietro will begin his rehab assignment on Saturday with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers against Springfield.
"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves,'' Snow told Newsday. "He's practicing today, he'll practice again tomorrow. Then at some point he'll do a conditioning stint in Bridgeport (AHL) and if everything goes well, I would think the middle of December.''
DiPietro signed a 15-year contract with the Islanders prior to the 2006-07 season and proceeded to put up a career-best 32 victories and .919 save percentage, leading the team to its most recent playoff berth.
After playing in 63 games the following season and winning 26 of them, DiPietro missed almost the entire 2008-09 season with lingering knee problems.
He played three games in October before undergoing knee surgery and returned Dec. 26, 2008, against Toronto to stop 28 of 29 shots and record his only win of the season. He started again on Jan. 2, 2009, against Phoenix, allowed five goals and missed the rest of the season.
DiPietro said that at the moment he isn't concerning himself with a target date for his return.
"I've kind of really tried to put myself out of that whole thing,'' DiPietro told Newsday after Monday's practice. "I think how my knee responds and how I practice will prove to everyone involved when I'm ready to come back. I just continue to feel better, which is a positive sign. It's exciting to be back.''
The Islanders, who finished 30th in the League last season, are currently 10-10-7 and began Monday just one point out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.