GLENDALE, Ariz. — The accolades poured in for Coyotes goaltender Louis Domingue over the All-Star Break.
He was named the NHL’s rookie of the month for January, GM Don Maloney said he had done enough to remain with the club even when injured goalie Mike Smith returns, and coach Dave Tippett said Domingue’s sample size of games had grown to the point where he was displaying “a lot of good trends.”
Two games won’t reverse those trends, but after allowing five goals on 25 shots in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at Gila River Arena, Domingue is facing the first real adversity of his remarkable rookie season.
He has allowed 10 goals on the last 50 shots he has faced, he has allowed goals from the center line in back-to-back losses and the Coyotes find themselves out of playoff position as they begin what Tippett has called the stretch drive of the season.
“It’s not the first time I’ve faced adversity in my career,” Domingue said. “I just have to regroup right away and move on.”
It is critical to the Coyotes’ playoff hopes that Domingue does just that. Maloney said Monday that he would be surprised if injured goaltender Mike Smith plays any games in February as he rehabs from lower abdomen surgery in mid-December that was expected to sideline him eight to 10 weeks.
Without Smith, the Coyotes only have veteran Anders Lindback, who has struggled most of the season and owns a 2.98 goals against average with a 0.898 save percentage. That means Domingue must shoulder the load as a No. 1 goaltender for a team on the edge of the playoff bubble.
“You always think you are ready for the NHL but you never really know until you’re actually doing it,” Domingue said. “To play all those games the last two months was a confidence boost for me.
“I think I’ve shown I can be a regular in the NHL but it’s a matter of being consistent.”
For the first two months of his trial, Domingue largely avoided the soft goals that plagued Smith and Lindback in their starts. In the last game before the All-Star break in Winnipeg, however, he got caught cheating on Dustin Byfuglien’s shot from the center line. Domingue thought Byfuglien was going to wrap the puck around the boards. Instead, Byfuglien put it into the open cage.
Things got worse against the Kings on Tuesday. Domingue allowed a pair of power-play goals that drew his coach’s criticism.
“Those should never go in short side,” Tippett said. “You’ve got the defenseman taking wide side away so you’re basically taking half the net away. Even though there’s a screen, those should be stopped pucks.”
The goals were nothing compared to the pair Dustin Brown scored. With the Coyotes already trailing 3-2 on a late second-period goal by Marian Gaborik, Domingue got caught out of position at the right post and Brown bounced a puck over his pad and into the net from center ice.
“You can’t get scored on from there,” Domingue said. “You’ve got to find a way to stop it.”
Early in the third period, Brown beat Domingue to the glove-hand side from a bad angle to make it 5-2.
“I felt like my glove hand was pretty awful tonight,” Domingue said. “I’ve got to have a better focus going into those games.
“I just think it’s on me tonight. If I make more saves then we have a chance to win.”
It’s important to remember that Domingue is a rookie. While Tippett had just praised him on Monday for working past the initial rookie trial period without any issues, it was inevitable that Domingue would face some struggles in his first audition as a No. 1 goalie.
Unfortunately for the Coyotes, they have nobody else to turn to when he does; at least not until Smith returns.
“It’s good to see him take responsibility for it but he’s got to clean up some of his stuff,” Tippett said.
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