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Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Old guy vs. injured guy in Isles' net

By Pierre LeBrun

The New York Islanders are among the early season's feel-good stories, having overcome long-term injuries to key players to jump out of the gates with a 3-1-2 record.

The obvious thing is that, long-term, the kids on this team have this franchise on the right track. Short term, however, and key to whether the Isles have any chance at the playoffs this season, are the netminders: the old guy and the oft-injured guy.

Dwayne Roloson, 41, and Rick DiPietro, 29, will decide whether there's playoff hockey in Long Island this season. Roloson is off to a fantastic start with a .942 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average to go with his 2-1-0 record. DiPietro, trying to ease his way back into regular duty after two injury-plagued years, hasn't lost in regulation at 1-0-2, but his numbers aren't great: 3.53 GAA and .869 SP.

Isles head coach Scott Gordon told ESPN.com Monday in Toronto that he's chatted with both goalies about his general plan for this season. He told Roloson that DiPietro is important to this franchise and that it's key to get him going again. But he also told the ultracompetitive Roloson that he will get his share of starts, too.

Gordon said he would also reserve the right to act on what he believed were good matchups. So Roloson got the past two starts because of his history at the Air Canada Centre. He backed up last season's heroic, 58-save performance with another gem Monday night, kicking away 29 shots in a 2-1 overtime win over the previously 4-0-0 Maple Leafs.

Score one for Coach Gordon.

How Gordon handles this goalie tandem will be a situation that bears watching all season long. Anyone who has been around Roloson, for example, knows that he wants the net every night. It's his makeup. Gordon will need dexterity in handling that.

"It's one of those things I can't control, I can't control who's playing and who's not playing," Roloson said Monday. "For me to focus on that and mentally worry about it, it's only going to affect my play. So I can't focus on that. Everyone wants to play, of course. You want to be in there. But it's one guy in net, and there's two guys on the team. You can't control that."

DiPietro played in 13 games over the past two seasons. He sounded Monday as though he was ready to roll with the punches no matter what Coach Gordon's decisions would be.

"Listen, man, 1 percent of the entire world gets to be a professional athlete, and I'm one of them," DiPietro said. "I feel truly blessed [and] lucky. As far as taking positives out of what's happened, I can't tell you how much of the little stuff you take for granted when you're here. When you're away from the game, you get a chance to see how truly lucky you are.

"Times I used to get mad when I got hit in the face with the puck, I"m just happy [now] that the puck's hitting me and I get a chance to stop the puck. You know what I mean?"

DiPietro is in the fifth year of a 15-year deal that pays him $4.5 million a year. It's in the franchise's obvious interests to rehabilitate him to the point where hopefully he's back to being a reliable and healthy No. 1. The team is being careful with him, giving him time to recuperate after games and tough practices.

"The previous year he never had the chance to train like an athlete, he had to train like a rehabbing athlete," Gordon said. "This is the first year in a while where he's been able to train to prepare for a season instead of training like he's coming off an injury. He hasn't had a day off because of his knee. It's all been something that we've done to make sure we don't put more wear and tear on him than we have to and allow him to really get up to speed with his own body. We want him to work his way back into it. Two years off is two years off. You can't pretend that you're going to pick it up where you left off."

DiPietro insisted he feels fortunate he's still in this position at all.

"It's been tough, I can't sit here and tell you it's been easy," he said. "A lot of dark days, a lot of times where you don't think you're going to make it. Luckily I have a strong support staff. The trainers have been great. I've got a phenomenal wife who I'm surprised hasn't killed me.

"You've just go to keep battling. I always just kept telling myself that the light at the end of the tunnel was coming and all the hard work was going to eventually pay off."

Roloson? He just turned 41 last week but looks and feels younger. He's earning $3 million this season ($2.5 million cap hit), and he'll be an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"I'm feeling real good. The body feels great. Just plugging away," he said Monday.

Roloson? DiPietro? That's the question for Coach Gordon in 2010-11, and every decision will have an impact on this season's win total.