While speculation has loomed throughout the offseason about the status of Rick DiPietro, the Islanders' injury-plagued franchise goaltender began skating last week and said he's encouraged by his progress.
"So far, everything has been positive. I've done everything under the sun to get stronger and into better shape," DiPietro said when reached by telephone Monday. "I'm going to come back and play when I'm 100 percent healthy. I'm not gonna make another mistake and rush myself back."
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DiPietro, who played only five games last season before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and being sidelined, skated lightly Thursday with head trainer Garrett Timms. DiPietro said he'll skate more this week, get into pads and gradually ease his way in before the start of training camp Sept. 12 in Saskatoon, Canada.
An Internet report Monday challenged DiPietro's readiness by noting that he had "not begun regular on-ice workouts" and had yet to receive clearance from the team's medical staff to begin "even light practicing," but DiPietro said his progress has not suffered any sort of setback. He said he is incrementally increasing his workload only as his stringent program dictates.
"We've maintained all along a certain rehab schedule,'' he said. "We've stayed strict with that and tried not to get away from it."
If anything has indicated the caution with which the organization will approach the goaltender situation, it's the Islanders' two biggest offseason acquisitions: goaltenders Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron.
Realizing that DiPietro might not be completely healthy at the beginning of the season, general manager Garth Snow targeted the position during this year's free-agency period.
"It allows Rick to take his time and make sure he's 100 percent before he comes back in games," Snow said.
DiPietro, who could have seen such moves as a threat to his starting job, said he is happy the team bolstered the position.
"I think [Snow] did a good job getting depth with Roloson and Biron this offseason," DiPietro said. "I haven't held up my end of the bargain these past couple years, but this year I'll be ready."
By signing Roloson and Biron, Snow hopes to avoid what happened last season, when the Islanders were forced to rely on untested netminders Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis.
"I didn't want to make the same mistake I made a year ago," Snow said. "It was a situation where we didn't have depth at the goaltending position that we have this year. With Roloson, Biron and DiPietro - when he's 100 percent to play - we have three bona fide goaltenders."
DiPietro, who refuted the notion that he would not want to be considered for the 2010 U.S. Olympic team ("If I'm healthy,'' he said, "why would I not want to play?''), said the reason he has made such a concerted effort to maintain a low profile and avoid addressing his current status is that he doesn't want to serve as a distraction.
"The only thing I want to be in the paper for,'' he said, "is winning games."