As a new era has started for the New York Islanders under coach Scott Gordon, an old mainstay has been conspicuously absent from the team's crease.
Goalie Rick DiPietro may finally make his season debut on Monday, when the Islanders look for a second straight home victory as they host the Buffalo Sabres.
The Islanders (1-1-0) placed a large part of their future on DiPietro's shoulders when they signed the former No. 1 overall draft pick to a 15-year contract before the 2006-07 season, but he was unimpressive last season, ranking 33rd in the NHL with a 2.82 goals-against average in 63 games.
He needed knee surgery in the offseason, and though he's on the Islanders' active roster as the backup, he did not play in either of New York's first two games under Gordon. DiPietro could return for Monday's game, and he downplayed the significance of his early absences.
"It's natural when you're coming off surgery to have some swelling in there. It's nothing serious," DiPietro said. "If I wasn't backing up, there would be something to talk about."
Joey MacDonald has played well in his absence, allowing two goals in each of the two games while stopping 51 shots. He had 24 saves in the Islanders' 5-2 win over St. Louis on Saturday, as the club earned Gordon's first victory as coach.
"It was the way we played," Gordon said. "Hopefully that's going to be our identity as a team and that's how we're going to play. ... We haven't done anything more than earn two points, but we're headed in the right direction."
The Islanders are looking to return to the playoffs after finishing last in the Atlantic Division last season.
The Sabres, meanwhile, also missed out on the postseason in 2007-08 despite advancing to the Eastern Conference finals each of the previous two seasons. But Buffalo (1-0-0) is hoping its 2-1 shootout victory in its opener against Montreal on Friday is a sign of a return to prominence for coach Lindy Ruff's club.
"This shows we can play one of the better teams in the East," Vanek said. "So far so good."
The Sabres also continue to play without center Tim Connolly, who scored 40 points last season in just 48 games while battling hip problems. He played only two games in 2006-07 with post-concussion symptoms, and he's now dealing with a hairline fracture of a vertebra. He's expected to miss at least the first week of the season, but could return soon after.
Buffalo, which eliminated the Islanders from the first round of the 2007 postseason, hasn't faced New York since Dec. 19. The Sabres dropped the first two meetings with the Islanders on back-to-back nights to open the 2007-08 season, but bounced back to beat them twice in December, including a 2-1 win at Nassau Coliseum in the most recent matchup.
Miller stopped 42 shots in that game after allowing 21 goals in his previous five starts against the Islanders.