Rick DiPietro is back, activated off injured reserve after six weeks away due to facial fractures.
With 11 games to go and the Islanders 11 points away from a playoff berth, DiPietro is not exactly returning for a triumphant stretch run to the postseason. But he'll be doing what many other Islanders need to do over the final three weeks: Playing to show he belongs in a key role when the 2011-12 training camp commences, six months from now.
"We'll see how Ricky feels, but we want to get him in there," Jack Capuano said Wednesday at IceWorks in Syosset, where the team had meetings and off-ice workouts after their 6-3 loss to the Rangers Tuesday. "It's still about habits. We're going to be playing in full buildings on the road, with a lot of people watching. It's a good time to show what they've learned over these last couple of months here."
When DiPietro went out after taking the fateful punch from Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson on Feb. 2, the Islanders' goaltending situation was a mess. Dwayne Roloson had been traded a month earlier; less than a week later, rookie Kevin Poulin's season ended with a dislocated kneecap in warmups, leaving the Islanders scrambling in net.
Up until Tuesday, they seemed to have that problem solved. Al Montoya, acquired from the Coyotes a month ago, went 7-3-3 with DiPietro out, his only real stumble coming on Tuesday at the Garden, with five goals allowed in 40 minutes. Nathan Lawson, who came in to play the final 20 minutes on Tuesday, was sent to Bridgeport to make room for DiPietro.
"I've been extremely pleased with Al's play, he's battled hard this last month," Capuano said. "I think there was a little fatigue the other night. But Ricky's ready, he's passed all the protocols and we'll go from here."
DiPietro's first game back could be Friday in Raleigh, N.C. The Hurricanes are in ninth place, two points behind the eighth-place Sabres.
"We're still playing for a lot here, not just playoffs," Andrew MacDonald said.
Notes & quotes: Forward Justin DiBenedetto was sent to Bridgeport Wednesday along with Lawson. Capuano said a forward would be called up Thursday . . . The Islanders signed D Aaron Ness to an entry-level contract. Ness, a second-round pick in 2008, will leave the University of Minnesota and play for Bridgeport.