SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - After nearly every goal scored by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in a 6-2 victory over the Springfield Falcons Friday night, Rick DiPietro began skating circles on the section of ice in front of his goalmouth.
Although surely pleased by the results, the true joy for DiPietro was just being on the ice again.
Making his second start in less than a week for the Islanders' AHL affiliate before 2,355 at the MassMutual Center, DiPietro looked spry and agile. Perhaps more importantly, he showed only slight signs of discomfort in his surgically repaired left knee.
The former NHL All-Star, who hadn't played a game since Jan. 2 before playing two periods for the Sound Tigers last Saturday, totaled 13 saves on 14 shots on goal in two periods of work.
DiPietro said he intended to play the entire game but sat out the third period after he informed Bridgeport coach Jack Capuano that he was experiencing some leg tightness.
"I didn't want to take any chance at this point," DiPietro said. "I've come so far, I didn't really want to set myself back. I just need a little rest and I'll see how I feel tomorrow.
"I felt more comfortable [Friday night]. My first game, it brought up a lot of nerves. I hadn't been in there in a while. I was moving around better [this time]. I saw the puck a lot better. I'm looking forward to the next time I get out there."
DiPietro said he will not play in Saturday's game against the Hartford Wolf Pack. Although he wouldn't confirm a timeline thereafter, he is expected to start Tuesday in Bridgeport in what could be his last start before joining the parent club.
Springfield right wing Colin McDonald scored the lone goal against DiPietro with 15:21 to play in the second period. The Falcons' Charles Linglet received the puck just inside the right circle and hit McDonald with a pass about five feet from the goal. McDonald ripped a shot to the top left corner that sped past DiPietro's outreached glove to tie the score at 1.
But throughout most of the game, DiPietro showed flashes of the agility and athleticism that led the Isles to sign the former No. 1 draft pick to a landmark 15-year, $67.5-million deal in 2006.
"He looked good," Capuano said. "He was warmed up, ready to go. He was focused. He was square to the puck. His rebound control was great."
With 4:55 to play in the first period, the puck sped behind the Sound Tigers' net and DiPietro dived toward the right post to protect against a potential shot. The puck skipped away to the other side of the ice and DiPietro sprung up into an upright position without hesitation or any sign of ill effects.
During a stop in play just over a minute later, however, he began to stretch out his legs in both directions for nearly 30 seconds, just as he had done to start the game.
In his first start with the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport last Saturday, DiPietro made 10 saves and allowed three goals in two full periods against the Falcons. He sat out the third period.