Rick DiPietro is optimistic about being healthy in 2010-11

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for josecanseco.jpgIn some ways, Rick DiPietro is hockey’s answer to Jose Canseco (in the photo to the right).

Like Canseco, DiPietro (and the New York Islanders) made a decision that was both very public and widely lampooned. Canseco elicited eye-rolls and mockery for blowing the whistle on steroid use in baseball, but now his book seems prescient and the sometimes-oafish former Major Leaguer might qualify a trailblazer. DiPietro and the Islanders produced guffaws from writers, fans and bloggers alike when they signed that 15-year, $67.5 million deal. Yet before the league finally put its foot down with the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, how many NHL teams followed suit with risky “lifetime” contracts?

The crucial difference, though, is that DiPietro hasn’t exactly been able to prove critics wrong. (OK, he also never let a homerun bounce off his noggin, but let’s move on.) Rather than giving him a “F” grade, I’d be more inclined to give him an “Incomplete” since knee problems kept him from honoring his commitment. In the last two seasons, he only played in 13 games.

Thumbnail image for rickydsmiling.jpgThe New York Post caught up with DiPietro, who seems optimistic about being healthy for the first time since the 2007-08 season (oddly enough, the last time the Islanders enjoyed moderate success).

Since signing his 15-year, $67.5 million contract in 2006, the polarizing netminder has been plagued by injuries and played in a total of 138 games in four years, 13 in the past two. Since the 2007-08 season, the Islanders haven’t won more than 35 games and have finished last in the Atlantic Division each season.

“It’s been a little out of the ordinary the last couple of years,” said DiPietro, who is coming back from two different surgeries on his left knee and a handful of setbacks that were the result of trying to come back too soon. “I’ve played through different kind of injuries and everything else, but it’s good to start to feel a little bit more normal and get back to my routine.”

While using most of the summer to rest his body rather than being forced to rehab, DiPietro has been skating recently and is in fine spirits about the upcoming year.

“Physically I feel great,” he said. “I’m working my way [back]. I don’t think anyone’s at 100 percent yet, we’ve got to get through camp. Each day, it [the knee] is getting stronger and stronger and we’re moving in the right direction.”

It’s natural to read the “I’m feeling so much better” type injury rehab stories with a healthy amount of skepticism, but the one thing going for DiPietro is that a lot of athletes see marked improvement the second year after knee surgery.

Say what you will about DiPietro, the Islanders really struggled since the beleaguered goalie went down with injury issues. Let’s not forget that he helped the team scrap to a few playoff berths, even if it was often on an eighth seed level. The Atlantic division isn’t as soft as it once was, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers joining the New Jersey Devils as regular winners. Yet if DiPietro bounces back and is near 100 percent, the team might at least be able to make a run at the playoffs.

Even if it’s pretty difficult to imagine that scenario right now.

Kyle Connor expected to be healthy scratch for Jets

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Jets rookie Kyle Connor played just 10:09 in Sunday’s outdoor loss to the Oilers, and tonight in Dallas it appears he’ll be a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career.

Connor was not among the 12 Winnipeg forwards taking line rushes this morning. The 19-year-old has just one assist in his first five games as a Jet. He’s a minus-5 and has also struggled in terms of possession, as evidenced by his 38 percent Corsi.

The 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Connor spent one year at the University of Michigan before leaving school to turn pro. He’s eligible to be sent to the AHL this season, something the Jets are no doubt considering.

Winnipeg has a number of potential call-ups on its farm club, including Marko Dano, Quinton Howden, Andrew Copp, Nicolas Petan, and Jack Roslovic.

Babcock’s had his fill of goalie questions, thanks

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on prior to the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Mike Babcock is aware Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good this season.

He’s also aware that Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good the last few seasons.

Thing is, he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“It’s five games in, isn’t it?” Babcock replied on Tuesday, when asked about the Leafs’ shaky netminding so far, specifically the play of Frederik Andersen. “Let’s just take a deep breath here.”

And here’s a transcript of what followed (courtesy Sportsnet)!

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night said the Leafs goaltending has been lousy this year.

Babcock: Who did?

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night — Don Cherry.

Babcock: Oh, OK. Well now that I know where I’m getting my facts from, here we go. Come on. Let’s move on. What’s next here? Holy [expletive].

Reporter: No, but seriously, it’s been an issue for this market probably since Ed Belfour left, and I’m wondering if there’s anything to that.

Babcock: But I’m not dealing with that. This is what I would tell you. We think we have a really good goaltender. At the World Cup I had three outstanding goaltenders, and they all talked about how much time it usually takes to get ready.

Our guy didn’t have that opportunity because of his injury. We’re real comfortable with him. Do we think he’s played as good as he’s capable of playing? No. Do we think he’s going to? Yes.

Babcock’s right to suggest it’s too early to start grading Andersen. First, there’s the adjustment from playing behind a good team in a small market (Anaheim) to playing behind a “growing team” in a massive, pressure-packed market like Toronto.

There’s also the additional pressure that came with Andersen’s acquisition price (a first- and second-round pick) and his subsequent contract extension (five years, $25 million).

The injury suffered playing for Denmark in Olympic qualifying was definitely a setback, as there’s no doubt some games for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey would’ve better prepared Andersen for the season.

Still, it’s hard to look at his numbers — 1-0-3, .879 save percentage, 3.63 GAA — and not be at least a little concerned.

Unless you’re Mike Babcock, that is.

Related: The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the year

Elliott gets the start in return to St. Louis

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Brian Elliott will be in Calgary’s crease against his old team tonight in St. Louis.

Even though Elliott played last night in Chicago, it was an easy decision for Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. Elliott had easily his best game of the season against the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory. The 31-year-old turned away all seven Chicago shooters in the breakaway competition, helping the Flames to just their second win of the young season.

“I definitely wanted that one,” Elliott told reporters afterwards. “We haven’t been playing like we wanted to and the guys came out and had a heck of an effort.”

Elliott started 164 games for the Blues during his five years in St. Louis. Last season, he backstopped them to their first conference final since 2001. He was then traded to Calgary in June, paving the way for Jake Allen to become the full-time starter in St. Louis.

Related: The list of struggling goalies is a long one

Crosby on track to make season debut tonight

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 30: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins waits for a face-off against the 
New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Prudential Center on January 30, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, Sidney Crosby participated in a full-contact practice.

Today, it appears he’ll make his season debut when the Penguins host the Panthers tonight in Pittsburgh.

“He had a strong practice this morning,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club. “Everything is pointing in the right direction. If he’s comfortable, he could play.”

Crosby has missed just six games due to the concussion he sustained during practice on Oct. 7. Given his history with concussions, if he plays tonight, it has to be considered a best-case scenario. Certainly, there had been fear he could be out much longer.

For the record, Crosby told reporters he’ll be a game-time decision.