What next for Joey Mac?

Greg Logan's off-day piece focuses on how Joey MacDonald's run as a starting goaltender is nearing an end. Rick DiPietro should be back practicing in pads today, which means -- assuming he's healed this time -- DP will be starting games in a week or so and grabbing the bulk of time as soon as he can handle it is allowed.

MacDonald: "It's a long year if you only have one goaltender playing the majority of the games. It's a busy schedule from Christmas on, and you need two healthy goaltenders. Like I said, [DiPietro] will want to play a bunch, but I'm going to be ready. It's going to be good to have him back."

It's an interesting position for MacDonald. Stuck behind legends in Detroit, it took a while for him to get a chance at one of the toughest (to acquire) jobs in sports. The two-year deal he signed two years ago included a one-way salary for this season, which virtually guaranteed an NHL job this season. But Rick DiPietro's injuries promoted "NHL job" to "NHL starter," and MacDonald's mostly run with it.

While he was building a case for NHL "Third Star" of November, I tongue-in-cheek posted a poll asking where he would be next year. While that answer is of course unknown, the question is still relevant, and the bulk of the data may be in:

If DiPietro returns to form, then MacDonald's days of showing his stuff for potential suitors are just about over. Considering this is a rebuilding year, and DiPietro is an asset whose health the Isles should guard with the next decade in mind, it makes sense to bring DiPietro along slowly and to give MacDonald at least even time for the rest of the season. But we'll believe it when we see it: Former goalie Scott Gordon certainly rode MacDonald; we'll see how he uses DiPietro if DP looks like his old self.

So, where does that leave Joey Mac's career?

2008 - Joey MacDonald 26 1502 10 14 2 3 80 3.20 802 722 .900 0

In his time as "number 1" -- including a stretch of 17 consecutive starts -- he proved himself to be at least a strong backup who can carry the load when needed. But he did falter some and his stats dipped as the work piled up: His positioning can get loose, and a couple of poor games may have been the result of overuse as the Islanders gave up repeated, high-quality scoring chances. Although he carried the load for Bridgeport last season, you're just not seeing uncontested Alex Ovechkin wrist shots in the AHL.

So MacDonald hasn't shown enough to earn him a late-bloomer starting job in the NHL. But he has, with the help of Islanders goaltending coaching, shown an ability to correct his lapses quickly. There is the potential for improvement if given enough playing time to demonstrate it.

Again, it's too early to say, but even if DiPietro carries the bulk of playing time in the second half, MacDonald's best move may still be signing on for more as Islanders backup, where the club already trusts him and the incumbent is likely to medically force Joey Mac to the center stage again.

Hell, it beats toiling in the ECHL.

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