DiPietro figures to make his first start of 2003-04 as the Islanders try to rebound from a dismal season-opening performance when they visit the Buffalo Sabres.
DiPietro, the top overall pick in the 2000 draft, is 5-20-3 with a 3.24 goals-against average in 31 NHL games over the past three seasons, but now has a golden opportunity to seize the starting job.
After trading Chris Osgood last season, the Islanders were left with only DiPietro and veteran Garth Snow in net. Both were outstanding in the preseason as the Islanders went 7-0, but rookie coach Steve Stirling decided to start Snow in Thursday’s season opener at Washington.
Snow didn’t fare any better than the rest of his teammates, as the Capitals coasted to a 6-1 rout, denying Stirling a victory in his first game as an NHL coach.
“It wasn’t the biggest deal in my life,” said the 53-year-old Stirling, who spent most of his career as a college coach. “One day I’ll be able to look back and say what it was. Most importantly, it was a good, old-fashioned licking.”
Snow was pulled during the second period after allowing six goals on 26 shots. DiPietro was New York’s only bright spot in the loss, stopping all 11 shots he faced.
One of DiPietro’s biggest assets is his stickhandling, but that skill often gets the young goalie in trouble.
“He’s got a lot of ability to play the puck,” Islanders captain Michael Peca said. “And once he finds his way with that, and the ‘D’ and him get to know each other a little bit more, he’s going to be dominant.”
Buffalo will be playing its first home game under new owner B. Thomas Golisano, who has given coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier an ultimatum to make the playoffs this year.
Doing that won’t be easy for the Sabres, who are coming off consecutive last-place finishes.
Offense has been the biggest shortcoming for Buffalo, a problem that plagued the Sabres again in Thursday’s 2-0 season-opening loss at Philadelphia.
The Sabres managed just 17 shots on goal and were 0-for-6 on the power play as Flyers goalie Jeff Hackett had an easy time recording the shutout.
“We played a solid two periods,” Ruff said. “We needed to take advantage of our power-play situations. They took advantage of theirs.”
Like the Islanders, the Sabres also lack a true No. 1 goaltender. Ryan Miller performed well in just his 17th NHL game Thursday, but Ruff has said he will use different goalies through the first few games.
“It’s something to build off of,” Miller said. “Obviously, every game I have here at this level is a learning experience.”
STANDINGS (through Oct. 9): Islanders - 0 points, 5th place, 2 PB, Atlantic Division. Sabres - 0 points, 4th place (tied), 2 PB, Northeast Division.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Oct. 9): Islanders - Power play: 0.0 percent (0 for 3), 15th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 77.8 percent (7 for 9), 12th. Sabres - Power play: 0.0 percent (0 for 6), 15th (tied). Penalty killing: 66.7 percent (4 for 6), 17th (tied).
GOALTENDERS: Islanders - DiPietro (0-0-0, 0.00 GAA); Snow (0-1-0, 13.64). Sabres - Miller (0-1-0, 2.06); Biron (no appearances).
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Islanders, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: March 1; Islanders 2-1, OT. At Uniondale, N.Y., Jason Blake scored with 2:18 left in overtime, and Snow finished with 36 saves.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Islanders - 0-1-0-0 on the road; Sabres - 0-0-0-0 at home.