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 through two full periods. DiPietro was expected to play all three periods, but he emerged from the locker room after the second break with a baseball cap and took a seat on the bench.
Scott Munroe started the third period in goal.
DiPietro is expected to skip Bridgeport's next game Saturday against the Hartford Wolf Pack and make one final start for the Sound Tigers on Tuesday before rejoining 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.
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.
The netminder also hunched over and rested his elbows on his knees nearly every time the puck was on the Falcons' side of the ice. That display seemed more a sign of fatigue from a player who has played in only three organized hockey games in the 2009 calendar year rather than one of concern for both DiPietro and Islanders fans.
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.
DiPietro, 28, played in only five games for the Islanders last season, posting a 1-3-0 record and 3.52 goals-against average while battling swelling and soreness in his left knee.