Rick DiPietro's return to the NHL is imminent, though coach Scott Gordon is making it a tantalizing guessing game. Which game will his rehabbing goaltender start as the Islanders begin a three-game road trip Wednesday night in Colorado?
DiPietro doesn't figure to start against the Avalanche, but count on seeing him Friday against Dallas or Saturday in Phoenix. It would mark his first NHL game in more than a year after recovering from surgeries to his knees.
Gordon knows everyone is anxious to see what DiPietro can do, but the coach cautioned: "Where he is at right now, I don't think he's at the spot where he's going to be a month from now. To be able to play at an NHL pace, fight traffic and NHL shots, it's a little bit different. His timing is going to be a little bit off.''
DiPietro's teammates have high hopes for his return. "I think we all know what a special goalie he is,'' John Tavares said. "When he is at his best, he is one of the best in the world. The way he plays the puck really takes some pressure off our defense and moving the puck up creates a better transition and more flow to our game and more speed. He's a pretty crafty goalie, never quits, battles hard, stops the puck. I'm excited to play with him. I watched him a few years when I was growing up. I remember how good he was.''
Captain Doug Weight added: "Ricky could take it to a new level. You are talking about a guy who can put you in position to win games and a guy who can maybe steal a game a week, three games a month. I think he is past his frustration phase and ready to give it a try. It's a situation that we would love to come to fruition . . . I think we're a good enough team to make the playoffs, but he can do nothing but help. That's exciting and refreshing for the guys in this room.''
If DiPietro remains healthy, the status of backup Martin Biron will grow more tenuous. "Three goaltenders, two of them will play,'' Gordon said flatly. "Obviously, Rollie is going to be one of them.''
Biron, one of the most popular Islanders in the locker room, is starting to think trade. "If the end result is that something might happen,'' he said, "for it to happen sooner than later might be able to give a team and myself a chance to get in a rhythm again.''