Capuano's arrival, DiPietro's starts seemed linked

Rick DiPietro dives to knock the puck away

Rick DiPietro dives to knock the puck away from the Devils' David Clarkson in the Islanders' win last Friday. (Nov. 26, 2010) (Credit: AP)

Something of a defining moment in Rick DiPietro's career with the Islanders may have come with this month's arrival of interim coach Jack Capuano.

That occurred after DiPietro allowed 13 goals in his last two starts under Scott Gordon. Who knows, but Gordon might have seen enough of the goaltender for life, an unofficial but undeniable designation in 2006 when DiPietro signed a 15-year contract for $67.5 million.

With DiPietro getting beaten regularly, Gordon had said that it was a "no-brainer" to go with Dwayne Roloson, who started the last five games of Gordon's tenure.

But Gordon's departure has yielded another opportunity for DiPietro. He has started the last three games and is likely to be in goal when the Rangers visit Thursday.

DiPietro had 29 saves in a 2-0 victory over New Jersey on Friday that snapped a 14-game losing streak. Before that, he stopped 34 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss to Columbus and had 33 saves against Atlanta in a 2-1 defeat. He is 3-3-5 with a 3.53 goals-against average.

"I don't know what happened before I got here," Capuano said Monday. "I do know that when I was here as an assistant [in 2006], I knew what Ricky was about. The first day that I stepped on the ice in practice [after Gordon's firing], I thought he was our best player. He seems to be playing with confidence. He seems to be on the right track as far as his health. I think he's just relaxed, playing and having some fun . . . He's got an opportunity now and he feels good."

It appears that Capuano intends to re-establish DiPietro as the Islanders' No. 1 goaltender. The team's commitment to the 29-year-old in years and dollars makes it obvious what his standing should be, but essentially losing the previous two seasons to injuries still raises something of a red flag in making any official pronouncement.

"Ricky's been through some challenges obviously with his health, and that's something that the organization has to take a look at," Capuano said. "I just got here; they know the protocol more than I do. We've got two good goalies and that has helped this hockey team."

DiPietro said he isn't seeking an endorsement from Capuano and realized Gordon had to play for victories. "That's professional sports. You are trying to win hockey games," he said. "No one owes me anything. I don't feel like I'm owed anything. You earn what you get. Keep your head down, work hard, and when your chance comes, take advantage of it.''

DiPietro is flourishing lately, but he wasn't about to speculate on plans Gordon might have had for him.

"I've been off for two years," he said of his injuries. "Rome wasn't built in a day. I had had a good start [early] and won some games, then had a couple of games where I [was] scored on a lot. It happens in an 82-game schedule. If I wasn't hurt the last two years and had a couple of games like that, it would be no big deal. But it is what it is.''

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