Islanders Training Camp Battles: Goalies battling life's transient nature

"For my next trick, I'll stretch my legs from the penalty box to the goal line."

The rookie games in Boston are tonight and tomorrow -- which Andrew tells us will be streamed on the Bruins site -- but the official site and other bloggers are providing ample info from rookie camp [see links at the end of this post]. So with grown-up camp beckoning at the end of the week, I'll continue our series of training camp battles with the goalies.

Being a famous scribe, I keep getting asked to contribute to season previews by the nation's leading publishing houses. [The previous statement has not been verified by the FDA, and is likely rubbish.] Alright, more like: some friends keep asking me what's up with the Isles, and they typically bring up Rick DiPietro and/or Dwayne Roloson -- probably because these friends aren't Islanders fans and they only read previews to prepare for their fantasy drafts. (I'm pretty sure all pre-preseason previews are written for the casual fan, anyway: The fan who's spent all summer watching baseball, ignoring hockey, and is at this very moment spending more time worrying about Kris Jenkins than Mikko Koskinen. If that's your species you're still very welcome here; it's just not me. I'm hockey 8 days a week, 13 months a year.)

Anyway, I finally told my friends to shove off, I'll write a post about it and they can read it here and finish their fantasy draft. Hot tip: Draft Khabibulin! Do it. Here goes.

The Islanders are fine in goal. Really.

National writers don't believe this (probably because they all just re-run their 2008 preview), and sometimes I worry about it myself, but Garth Snow learned his Health Is Neither Permanent Nor Predictable lesson two seasons ago and started stockpiling goalies in response.

The result is that Dwayne Roloson is a still-limber, still-above-average goalie at 41 (come October), Nathan Lawson is an AHL-experienced guy who's excelled at each pro level and looks ready to step in if needed, Mikko Koskinen is a towering pro who's probably just last year's injury layoff away from being NHL-ready, and Kevin Poulin is the new kid who stoned the Quebec league and even caught Patrick Roy's eye.

Notice that paragraph didn't mention The Franchise (2000-2006). DiPietro is reported to be healthy (we've heard that before, but all you can do is rehab, rehab, and hope it works. We won't rehash our guesses on his odds here.). The Islanders are definitely counting on him to carry some of the load that Roloson cannot. But the important thing is they don't have to.

Talk is cheap, and we'll probably get a strong hint as to what DiPietro can contribute this year after a week or so of training camp. If his health or form falters, I'm betting Lawson or Koskinen are prepared to deliver an upgrade on what Martin Biron delivered last season. If not, recent history and the league have shown that replacement goalies are becoming easier and easier to get in a pinch. The candidate pool keeps getting bigger in our standardized butterfly age, while the job openings remain finite.

 

Risks

He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity al-ways wins

That's not to say there aren't concerns. There are always concerns. Such as: Roloson's age could finally catch up to him, resulting in injury or old-man form (or both). DiPietro's knee could strike again, or he could never "get it back." Koskinen, coming off a hip surgery (already?!) that shanked his first season in North America before he got some late-season action, could have a re-injury. Lawson could prove to have an AHL ceiling. Poulin could -- well he shouldn't be ready for the NHL yet, so hopefully we don't have to find out.

Those are all risks. But for risks you buy insurance, and that's what those names collectively represent. If all of those risks should become reality in the same season, then we really are cursed. I'm betting we're not.

 

The Battle

So that's the lineup heading into camp. Koskinen and Poulin -- who clearly put a smile on Gordon's face -- will get starts in the rookie games this week. Then they'll battle Lawson for playing time at AHL Bridgeport. If and when one of Roloson or DiPietro has a setback, one of them steps in to help.

At the NHL level, you still have to figure Roloson gets the bulk of starts. The Islanders will have to be conservative with DiPietro, even if he looks sharp. The interesting moments will come toward the end of the season: Roloson will be at the end of his contract in his age 41 season. DiPietro, if he hasn't proven healthy and good, would face another ominous step. And the other three will have vied for the organization's favor, all while knowing Europe-based Anders Nilsson is also in the picture.

In a sense, the goalie battle at camp boils down to Roloson vs. Father Time and DiPietro vs. Mother Nature. But if either human loses his battle with Parental Grand Concept, well, "New species come / Old species fall to nature once again."

 

Rookie Camp and Goalie Links

Finally, the SB Nation hockey blogs did an NHL preseason poll, results here. I'm not sure how many voters/writers there were from each site, but that may have skewed things. I didn't vote -- I was on a lake -- but I confess power rankings and polls don't interest me much anyway. I prefer the standings, and there are no standings yet. But soon, friends. Soon.

Now: Who's watching that game tonight?

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