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DiPietro needs to make most of his rehab time

Rick DiPietro deflects a shot on goal against

Rick DiPietro deflects a shot on goal against the Springfield Falcons during an AHL hockey game while playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. (December 5, 2009) Credit: AP

Rick DiPietro has to make up for a lot of lost time, so every minute counts in his rehab.

DiPietro was the first Islander on the ice for yesterday's practice at IceWorks in Syosset, his first full team workout of the season. He skated a few laps before joining the team for stretching. He stretched after nearly every drill during the hour-and-a-half practice.

The 28-year-old goalie reported no tightness in his leg, which forced him to leave his second rehab start in Bridgeport 11 days ago after two periods.

"It's been a grind, mentally, physically, but as we get closer, the more and more excited and the more and more hopeful I am that everything will work out," DiPietro said. "It was nice to see some live shots again."

After the Islanders play host to the Maple Leafs Wednesday, they have two days off for Christmas. After the break, they'll play back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday against the Rangers and Flyers. Coach Scott Gordon said no timetable has been set for DiPietro's return, but he's excited to get him back on the ice, especially because the Isles have lost seven of their last nine games.

"[He's] like having a No. 1 pitcher on a baseball team," said Gordon, who added that DiPietro might go back to Bridgeport to get in some more practice since the Islanders' upcoming games don't allow for it. "[A player like DiPietro] is something every team is going to miss. But to get out and play a game, you need some time with the team."

DiPietro last played for the Islanders on Jan. 2, a span of 355 days. "Mentally, it's been a lot tougher," said DiPietro, who appeared to execute normally during the practice. "It's tough to sit in the locker room and watch games. It's kind of a helpless feeling."

One thing DiPietro hasn't lost during his time away from the team is his dry sense of humor. A reporter asked DiPietro if he knew where he was at, referring to his rehab process.

The goalie, sporting a full beard, gave his facial hair a swipe before responding: "Syosset."

Notes & quotes: Richard Park briefly went down on all fours after John Tavares fell on the back of his left leg while working on faceoffs. He was looked at by the trainer, but was able to get up on his own power and continue skating . . . Freddy Meyer's slap shot toward the end of practice broke a pane of glass behind the net.

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