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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Evgeni Nabokov started in goal instead of Rick DiPietro in the New York Islanders' season-opening 2-1 loss to the Devils on Saturday night.DiPietro has nine seasons left on a 15-year deal he signed in 2006.
"I sat down with (goaltending coach) Mike Dunham and our coaches and if I said we're going with Ricky, then we talked about why aren't you going with Nabby," coach Jack Capuano said before the game. "It's just one of those things that Nabby finished the year last year and hopefully he's off to a good start here tonight against New Jersey."Nabokov made 26 saves against New Jersey. "I thought Nabby looked in control," said Islanders acting head coach Doug Weight, who filled in after Capuano had to miss the game due to medical reason. "I played a lot of hockey against Evgeni and he's a confident individual. He brings it every night and I knew he would have a good game tonight. He's in great shape and I thought for the guys that hadn't played this year he's probably our best guy. He looked quick, he looked agile." Weight wouldn't name a starter for Monday night's game against Tampa Bay. "I have a feeling I'm going to talk to a couple guys, talk it over and we'll figure it out," Weight said. "Hopefully, they'll know tomorrow, but there's going to be things to think about for a lot of teams. It's going to be a tough year with the road and home and the minutes people are going to play, so we'll talk about that as a staff and figure it out."
The oft-injured DiPietro entered this season healthy but hasn't played a game since Dec. 3, 2011. He played in Germany during the lockout and said he feels good. He wasn't disappointed that he didn't start the opener.
"My goal was to be healthy and be able to compete on a regular basis. I feel like I owe it to myself and the team and organization to do everything I can to be out there and be available," DiPietro said after the team's morning skate. "That's the biggest thing for me, I want to be available. It's not fun watching games from your couch or the press box. Just want to be a part of this team and stay healthy."
Injuries have derailed DiPietro's career since the Islanders selected him first in the 2000 draft. In the last four seasons, he's played a combined 47 games, including just eight last season. He's only played in double-digit games once in the past four years, when he appeared in 26 in 2010-11. Last year, a groin injury and hernia surgery kept him sidelined for nearly the entire season. His 15-year deal is worth $67.5 million.
"Whatever I can do to stay ready and stay sharp. In this league nothing is given and everything is earned," DiPietro said. "Do my best in practice and whenever I get the chance to play, earn some playing time. That's the bottom line."
Nabokov, 37, started 41 games for the Islanders last year and went 19-18-3. With the condensed season, teams are going to need to keep their goalies fresh, so there should be ample opportunities for DiPietro to get on the ice this season. In eight games last season, six of which were starts, he was 3-2-3.
"You're going to need both guys playing well," DiPietro said. "I think there's seven or eight back-to-backs and a game every other night. It's going to be a tough schedule but you'll have two guys that are rested and feeling good throughout the regular season and, knock on wood, into the playoffs."