In a manner quite apart from 2006-07, backup goalie Rick DiPietro remains the face of the Islanders franchise. Victories are hard to come by. The playoffs seem a distant mirage. The fans are on his case.
In the team's 6-4 come-from-ahead loss to Carolina Monday night -- the Islanders' fifth consecutive defeat -- DiPietro was beaten for a second time in two starts this season. His goals-against average is 4.62, far above the 2.86 he compiled through his first 10 seasons.
It's enough to trigger that common spectator assumption that these guys are not trying hard enough.
"This is our lives," DiPietro said. "I think people get to see the two or three hours on the ice, playing games, but this is our profession.
"You ask any athlete, it consumes your life. I watched game before I went to sleep; I didn't get to sleep until 3 or 4 in the morning. I just like to watch the games, pick up different things. My wife said, 'What are you doing?'
"I said, 'Just going over the goals in my mind again.' She said, 'You know, you've got to turn it off.' But it's tough. You know, we're in a business that looks at results. A lot of the way we identify ourselves and who we are as people is on the results we have on the ice, so when they're not there, it's tough."
He is 31 now. Formerly the top draft pick in all of hockey, formerly an All-Star, the man who signed a whopper of a contract (15 years, $67.5 million) and then proceeded to lead the team into its most recent postseason appearance that season (2006-07), DiPietro reflects the State of the Islanders a quarter of the way through this lockout-abbreviated season.
If, as Islanders coach Jack Capuano put it Tuesday -- that "facing adversity builds character" -- DiPietro is a man of considerable constitution. After a three-year stretch of 188 games played and 88 victories, DiPietro has since seen action in only 49 games the past five seasons, with a 14-26-7 record.
Beginning with the first of two concussions late in the 2006-07 season, DiPietro was laid low by a wave of head-to-toe injuries -- head, face, hip, knees -- and operations, with only glimpses of game action.
"I mean, after three years of being injured," he said, "no one likes to go to rehab every day or have the surgery addiction that I'm trying to deal with."
Of his situation, he said, "It's professional sports, man. It's how it is. You've got to be ready. That's my job, to be ready whenever I get a chance and stay sharp. Nothing in this business or this life is a given, you're got to earn everything you get. That's just how I approach it."
During their recent stretch, the Islanders repeatedly have been reminded that a commitment to effort, and nice stretches of efficiency, are not necessarily rewarded with victory. (They outshot Buffalo 43-15 on Saturday and still lost.)
So the trick is dealing with the subsequent frustration. "I wish I had the answer to that," DiPietro said. "I think the best thing you can do is just stick to a routine. That's why you have a lot of professional athletes that are such creatures of habit, because you don't always get the results you think you deserve or expect or hope for.
"And you just have to be able to be confident in what you've done to prepare and continue to do it. That's always what I fall back on.
"Every day I wake up in the morning with an opportunity to play this great game is a great day. I don't take anything for granted. I realize now I'm not invincible. I've always tried to do everything I can to stay healthy.
"It hasn't always worked, but I'm trying, trust me."