An already complicated goaltending situation for the Islanders was made even more so by the four-month lockout.

Now, with a condensed 48-game schedule that includes seven back-to-backs, the pressure is on coach Jack Capuano to play his hand properly. To cool the hot play of either Evgeni Nabokov or Rick DiPietro, or to run one of them into the ground and invite an injury, could stall any possible momentum gained.

And a prolonged losing streak, which this young team has shown to be susceptible to, will cut the floor out of the season before it can even begin.

"I think when a guy is playing well, it's going to be tough to change him during a shortened season," Capuano said Friday as his team prepared to kick the season off tonight at the Coliseum against the Devils.

"With that being said, we play seven games in the first 13 days, three games in the first five," Capuano added. "It's not going to be much practice time."

With Nabokov, 37, and with DiPietro having suffered through a morbid string of injuries limiting him to 47 games over the past four seasons, who to play and when will not be an easy decision. Odds are Nabokov will get the nod tonight, but as Capuano noted, neither goalie played extensively during the lockout, so conditioning will be an issue, as well.

"We have two quality goaltenders, so we're going to go with the hot hand," Capuano said. "They're both older, experienced guys, they know how their bodies are going to react. For me, we want a guy that's consistent, giving our team a chance to win every night."

DiPietro, 31 and still with nine years left on his $67.5 million contract, harkened back to something said to him by the man that drafted him out of Boston University.

"Mike Milbury told me a long time ago, he said, 'STP.' There was a swear, actually, 'STFP'. Stop the puck," DiPietro said. "That's plenty to worry about. So that's all I'm focused on, staying healthy and stopping the puck."