(Sports Network) - If someone had told you before the start of the season that the Islanders would be without one of their best players due to injury, you probably would have assumed that goaltender Rick DiPietro was hurt yet again.
That isn't the case as DiPietro is expected to start New York's season opener, but the club will be without defenseman Mark Streit and forward Kyle Okposo this evening when it hosts the Dallas Stars at Nassau Coliseum.
One season after wrapping up the 2008-09 campaign with an NHL-worst 61 points, the Islanders posted a 34-37-11 record last year and stayed in the playoff hunt until the final weeks of the regular season.
New York was hoping to take another step forward this year, but shoulder injuries to both Streit and Okposo that required surgery will make things harder for the club out of the gate.
Okposo isn't expected to return until December because of his right shoulder injury, putting more pressure on second-year forward John Tavares, 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson and young winger Josh Bailey.
Tavares, the top pick of the 2009 draft, netted 15 goals and 27 points in his first 32 games last year, but slowed down and ended the year with 24 goals and 54 points in 82 games. Moulson, meanwhile, came into last year having scored just six career goals in 29 games and he will be out to prove his most recent campaign was no fluke.
With Okposo out, the Islanders elected to keep 2010 fifth overall pick Nino Niederreiter on the roster. The 18-year-old could still eventually be sent back to junior hockey and will try to make a good first impression.
"Oh definitely. I definitely don't see myself as on the team," Niederreiter said. "I still have to work hard and we'll see. I hope I'm going to play in the opener game and we'll see what's going to happen."
DiPietro, entering the fifth season of a 15-year contract, will start tonight's opener and has played in just 13 games over the last two seasons because of injury. He made eight appearances last year and is 2-2-1 with a 2.61 GAA in five career starts versus the Stars.
In fact, DiPietro made his season debut last year on Jan. 8 versus the Stars, taking a 4-3 loss in his first NHL action since Jan. 2, 2009.
That win by Dallas was its third in a row over New York, which has lost two straight at home to the Stars.
The loss of Streit won't help DiPietro either seeing as the workhorse defender averaged 25 minutes and 41 seconds per game last year. He notched a club-best 38 assists and is out indefinitely. New York used 12 different defenseman last year due to poor play and injury.
The Stars will play their second road contest in as many nights following Friday's 4-3 overtime victory at New Jersey. Loui Eriksson's second goal of the game 1:36 into the extra session gave Dallas the win after the club fell behind by two goals early.
Brad Richards had a goal and an assist, Brenden Morrow lit the lamp and Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves in victory.
"It's nice to get a win in overtime to start the season," said Lehtonen. "You always want to get off to a good start at the beginning of the season. Things weren't perfect out there, but we'll work on things and continue to improve."
Dallas picked up the victory with a bit of a different look. Long-time No. 1 netminder Marty Turco is now with the Blackhawks, while the Stars franchise opened up a season without center Mike Modano, the all-time leader in goals and points by an American-born skater, for the first time since the 1988-89 season.