How to quantify Rick DiPietro's first NHL start in 371 days? We knew there would be rust, there was rust. We hoped there would be athleticism, there was athleticism. We feared there would be puckhandling, there was plenty of puckhandling.
Four goals allowed, none of them embarrassing, yet most of them stoppable by a true #1 on an in-form night. Ironically, though DiPietro showed he has a ways to go to round back into form, he probably wasn't the worst goalie on the ice. That honor went to Marty Turco, whose swimming and snow angels in the crease gave me hope 'till the final horn, and whose puckhandling follies gave Frans Nielsen a goal outright.
One thing I hate to mention because just hours ago I fumed about Mike Milbury touting it so much on draft day 10 years ago (and WebBard rightly suggested it in the game thread): Rick DiPietro's puckhandling, which makes so many of us nervous, nonetheless helped break the puck out better than the defense often does. DiPietro's wanderings were largely effective, in contrast to Turco's. As I thought 10 years ago, that's not an essential skill, but it's nice to have.
Scott Gordon's take and video after the jump:
"I thought it was a great first game for him," Gordon said. "For a first game, I'll take it."
I agree with the second statement, but not the first. There was nothing "great" about it unless not re-injuring anything and not getting embarrassed was the threshold for greatness. But it was no worse than can be expected, and for the first game in this process, I'll take that.
But you can review all the goals in the video below and decide for yourself. I was more disappointed with the Islanders play for the balance of 60 minutes than I was by DiPietro's failure to look in mid-season form in his first start.
The Goals: All Seven at Even Strength, None Particularly Pretty
Sloppy game by both teams.
As for the goals DiPietro let in:
- #1: A point shot deflected by the hashmarks through the five-hole. Not great, but a deflection.
- #2: A nice backhand feed to the slot left Loui Eriksson all alone, with time to pick a perfect corner high glove side. A goalie can make that save, but if he does it's a highlight reel one.
- #3: Just an awful play by Brendan Witt behind the net, leaving a weak backhand off the boards intended for Bruno Gervais, as Witt vacated the area. Just like Kyle Okposo's goal off of Josh Bailey's forecheck, the snafu behind the net helped cross signals for the goalie. Brendan Morrow took a nice feed in front while skating against the grain, leaving DiPietro overcompensating, which is not good, but the confusion of the play may have led him to miss what shooters were approaching.
- #4: The worst one, though with no rebound help from the defense. DiPietro made the initial save from the left wing -- he actually made several decent saves on 28 Stars shots -- but he kicked the rebound out to the opposite side of the slot. Andy Sutton and Nate Thompson were both there, but neither could clear it before Brad Richards banged it in. That said, it was a no-brainer for Richards because DiPietro moved across the crease like an old man on that one.
And that last one is what will be the thing to watch most in this comeback: How is he moving around the crease on recoveries? Is he able to track the puck and react at an adequate rate? His reactions on initials shots were good, and his rebound control was adequate. We'll just have to see about the rest, which is the area that distinguishes an NHL goaltender from one who doesn't make the cut. Chickendirt suggested in the game thread that a lack of lower body strength may be behind some of the slow responses; I hope so. "Rust" can take many forms, so we just have to go through the process.
(I don't want to overanalyze the first run of what will be quite a journey. But for the first night, when the news is fresh, I thought I'd give a full report for those who didn't see it.)
Guys Not Named DiPietro
The rest of this game was typical of the Islanders when they're at half-full, half-empty mode. Some nice heads-up play by the young core: Josh Bailey buries the rebound of the bad bounce by Turco; Bailey's good forecheck bounces the puck right out to Kyle Okposo; Matt Moulson catches Turco trying to do too much, feeding Frans Nielsen for the tap-in.
But the Islanders forecheck tuned out for long stretches. Their pressure and poise in the final minute, with the sixth attacker, made you wonder where the urgency was the rest of the game. The powerplay, with only 1.5 opportunities, didn't get much going, though it did create some scrambles around the goal that Turco narrowly escaped.
On defense, the Islanders came back to help protect DiPietro quite a bit (sometimes too much, as there were two near-collisions between D-men and The Franchise). But overall, they ran around a lot and DiPietro was the best defense on their forecheck: His clears did more to relieve the pressure than anything. That's not a good sign, but it's a sign you're watching the Islanders blueline corps, circa 2009-10.
Next Up: To the Desert
Saturday night in the desert, making this a back-to-back with the much better team on the second night. But with Dwayne Roloson in, we've got a chance.
Open Question: Where's John Tavares? Seriously. Be it injury or be it fatigue, it's hanging in the air.