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Isles give goalie Lawson first NHL start

Islanders goalie Nathan Lawson stops a shot by

Islanders goalie Nathan Lawson stops a shot by the Phoenix Coyotes during the second period at Nassau Coliseum, Saturday. (Dec. 18, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

Even the news of goaltender Rick DiPietro's recent physical setback couldn't take top billing Saturday after the Islanders delivered arguably their biggest head-scratcher of the season.

The decision to call up 27-year-old Bridgeport goaltender Nathan Lawson was not so bizarre - the Islanders want to rest DiPietro, who is experiencing swelling in his surgically repaired left knee - but the decision that followed was curious, to say the least.

Instead of pursuing the most logical route - playing the steady Dwayne Roloson and having Lawson back him up - they awarded Lawson his first NHL start last night against Phoenix at Nassau Coliseum.

It was a testament to Lawson that he made the most of the inexplicable circumstances, turning away 32 shots to keep the Islanders in the game before falling in a 4-3 shootout. But despite a fine performance in his NHL debut, the most compelling question of the day remained.

Why give Lawson the start instead of Roloson? "If we're going to bring guys up, we're going to give them an opportunity,'' coach Jack Capuano told Newsday. "It's just like with Rhett [Rakhshani] in that if we're going to bring a guy up, we're not going to have them sit on the bench.''

He added, "Listen, we've won two games here. I couldn't tell you who will start next game or if we'll have anyone else up from Bridgeport next game. We haven't been winning a lot of games here, so obviously something had to change. With Nathan, I have all the confidence for him to step in here.''

A source told Newsday that the recent transaction was in no way related to today's NHL roster freeze. An additional source confirmed that Roloson is completely healthy and is not battling any health issues.

Equally puzzling is the timing of such an experiment. The Islanders entered the game coming off a rare and much-needed win; their 3-2 victory over Anaheim Thursday night was only their second in 22 games.

"Well, he was hurt in training camp, and [since then] he has played extremely well," Capuano said of Lawson. "When a guy's going well, you want to ride him, so we felt like right now is the right time."

Lawson showed poise under pressure in his first NHL start, making several key saves before giving up the tying goal to Martin Hanzal with 1:28 left in the third period. He then gave up shootout goals to Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Kyle Turris. Frans Nielsen scored the Isles' only shootout goal.

Lawson's arrival made for a strange and confusing morning skate at the Coliseum. His presence on the ice would not have been so noteworthy save for the fact that Roloson and DiPietro also were on the ice.

After confirming that Lawson would start, Capuano said DiPietro was "dinged up'' but that it was "nothing serious,'' and that he and general manager Garth Snow decided it would be a good time to give Lawson an opportunity. Capuano added, "Rick wasn't going to play tonight anyway, so it's just good he gets a couple days' rest."

Although Lawson delivered a 36-save performance Dec. 10 in a 4-1 win over Providence, his Sound Tigers numbers were far from dazzling. Since suffering a knee injury in training camp in September, he was 2-4-2 in nine games for Bridgeport, with a 3.78 goals-against average and .890 save percentage.

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