NEW YORK — Louis Domingue is discovering what a lot of sophomore NHL players have discovered before him: replicating a solid rookie season is hard work.
Domingue was a revelation in relief of Mike Smith last season. With Smith out three months after surgery on a core muscle, Domingue played 39 games, posting a .912 save percentage, a 2.75 goals against average and set the franchise record for wins (15) by a rookie goaltender. He went 7-0-3 in his first 10 starts and at one point, made 16 straight appearances before fatigue seemed to take its toll as his numbers dropped.
“I showed that I can be a No. 1 guy in this league,” Domingue said.
With a newborn daughter (Mila), a new house in Quebec and a new, two-year, $2.1 million contract, Domingue may have been pressing a little too hard when he was pressed into action on Tuesday in Ottawa in the wake of another Smith injury.
“In the training camp I had it in mind to show that I earned that contract and I’ve got to own up to it,” Domingue said.
“If someone put pressure, it’s me. I put pressure on me and I shouldn’t do that. I think when Smitty went down right away I thought that I needed to carry the team, but as me and (goalie coach) Jon Elkin talked together, we figured out that I don’t need to look too far and put pressure on myself.”
Domingue has not been the beneficiary of good fortune. When he relived Smith in the third period in Ottawa, he immediately faced quality chances. Chris Kelly scored 12 seconds into that relief appearance and Domingue allowed three goals on 11 shots. In his native Montreal, he allowed four goals on 19 shots before Justin Peters relieved him.
Domingue was better against the Islanders on Friday, stopping 28 of 31 shots, but after Brad Richardson lost a defensive zone faceoff, Johnny Boychuk’s shorthanded, third-period knuckleball eluded Domingue’s blocker and proved the difference in a 3-2 loss.
“That’s a shot that probably should be stopped,” coach Dave Tippett said. “On those goals, you always go back to the play but really we just get a stop there and you don’t even look at it again.”
Tippett understands the situation Domingue is in and he acknowledged that Friday’s performance was better.
“He made some good saves, some tough saves,” said Tippett, who is still uncertain whether Domingue or Peters will start Sunday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “We’ve thrown him in a tough spot. (In) Ottawa, we really threw him in a tough spot. He went in to Montreal and he probably would have liked to have a few of those back. He’s in a tough spot but he’s got to work his way out of it.”
Domingue insists he doesn’t mind the situation. It’s where he wants to be, and he hopes the Islanders game is a building block for better days.
“I think they got the real me tonight,” he said Friday night. “That’s how I want to come out.
“In all, I gave the team a chance to win and they deserve that, they deserve a goalie that does the job. The last two games were unacceptable and that’s not what the team needs at all.
“When I’m at my best — and really anybody in the league — is when we take it one shot, one day at a time and go from there. I’m grateful for the playing time I’m getting.”
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