NEW YORK — Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro is out again, this time for four to six weeks because of broken bones in his face caused by a punch from Pittsburgh counterpart Brent Johnson.
The oft-injured netminder was felled by a left hook above his right eye Wednesday night in New York’s 3-0 loss at Pittsburgh. The Islanders said Friday that the punch during the rare goalie fight caused facial fractures. That and swelling in his knee will keep the 29-year old DiPietro out of action for at least a month.
The fight occurred with 16.5 seconds left in the game. Initial X-rays taken in Pittsburgh failed to reveal the injuries, but further tests Thursday showed the extent of the damage.
“It was tough to tell at the time,” DiPietro said. “Your adrenaline is rushing so hard that fortunately in a fight like that you don’t feel anything until afterward. It’s unfortunate and frustrating and every other emotion you can throw in there.”
DiPietro said he will leave the decision of when he can return in the hands of doctors and the team’s training staff. He must rest and stay away from physical activities for a while.
“Right now it’s soft foods and hang out,” he said. “Those are my favorite things: to work out and eat and play hockey. I can’t do any of them so it’s not really the best of injuries.”
This is just the latest in a long list of ailments for DiPietro, in the fifth season of a landmark 15-year contract. He has played in only 21 games this season because of trouble with his surgically repaired left knee and a groin injury.
Although DiPietro expects to play again this season, there appears to be no reason for him to rush him back. New York (16-28-7) fell to last in the Eastern Conference on Thursday night when the New Jersey Devils passed the Islanders with a win over the Rangers. The Islanders are ahead of only the Edmonton Oilers in the overall NHL standings, by just one point.
“You don’t really ever want a broken face to be the reason that you get extra rest,” DiPietro said. “You keep telling yourself that everything happens for a reason. I am not sure what that reason is yet, but hopefully at some point it will come to the surface. It will make winning the Stanley Cup that much sweeter.”
Thoughts of a championship on Long Island seem quite far-fetched now. The Islanders have been trying to build a young team with a payroll that barely meets the minimum requirements established by the collective bargaining agreement.
New York has finished last in the Atlantic Division each of the past three seasons. The Islanders also had the NHL’s worst record during the 2008-09 season and appear headed for another high draft pick following this disappointing season.
DiPietro played in a total of 13 games the previous two seasons because of his troublesome knee. He’s also had operations on both hips and has a history of concussions, as well. He has never played more than 63 games in any of his nine NHL seasons, since the Islanders picked him No. 1 overall in the 2000 draft.
“It’s like whatever bad can happen just seems to happen, not just to myself but to the entire team,” DiPietro said. “It’s not just small groin pulls and muscle strains when you’re out a couple of days. It’s blown-out hips and knees and faces and everything else.”
DiPietro said the physicalness of the game with the Penguins and overall frustration led to the fight with Johnson, which occurred after a scuffle between other players on the ice.
Johnson started skating toward the Islanders’ end, and the goalies nodded to each other before coming together. With one punch, Johnson took down DiPietro. Even knowing the outcome, DiPietro said he has no regrets.
“I am sick of losing, our team is sick of losing,” he said. “You never go into a fight expecting that you’re going to get smashed in the face that hard with these kinds of consequences, but it happens. He landed a good punch and you move on.
“I didn’t realize at the time that his arms were so long or that he could throw such a hard left punch, but I found both of those out pretty quickly. It’s a tough game and it’s a physical sport. Unfortunately my face paid the price.”