In a perfect world, Louis Domingue’s NHL indoctrination would not have been quite so harrowing. The Coyotes would have worked him in slowly as a backup, choosing his opportunities carefully to maintain his confidence and manage his learning curve.
With starter Mike Smith out since mid-December following surgery, and with backup Anders Lindback ineffective and then shelved for the season by an Achilles injury, Domingue has had to endure the proverbial trial by fire as the team’s only legitimate option.
The rookie goaltender learned another valuable lesson in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.
Domingue was brilliant for two periods. He was actually brilliant for most of the game with 31 saves, including great stops on Mike Richards, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Stanislav Galiev, but two mistakes cost him in another one of those tight, late-season affairs that coach Dave Tippett expects to see often over the final seven weeks of the season.
With the score tied early in the third period, the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, Alex Ovechkin, beat Domingue under the arm from the left wing through a Jarred Tinordi screen to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead. It was a tough goal to stop, but as Tippett has noted, Domingue needs to find the puck through screens and the angle of the shot underscored that necessity.
“That’s one that I think he’d like to have,” Tippett said.
The killer goal came 26 seconds later when Domingue thought he had frozen an initial shot with his glove, only to have Washington’s Mike Richards skate by and swipe it into the net on a play that probably should have resulted in a whistle before Richards ever had that opportunity.
“To me, it cost us the game,” Domingue told reporters after the game. “I’m expecting that they treat every guy the same way and I feel like because I don’t have many games in this league, I’m being treated differently. I think that if (Caps goalie Braden) Holtby would have covered the puck this way they would have blown the whistle right away.”
Domingue said he talked to referee Garrett Rank about the decision but wasn’t satisfied with the reply.
“He says he didn’t think I knew where the puck was,” Domingue continued. “My glove’s over the puck. I’m looking up because I’m expecting a whistle. I don’t know what he was thinking. I think the pressure was maybe too much for him.”
You can’t fault Domingue for the frustration he felt. NHL referees have ruled many a play dead more quickly than the goal in question. It’s hard to fathom why Rank thought Domingue hadn’t located the puck. On the flip side, Domingue will probably learn at some point that calling out the officials isn’t the wisest move. Nor will it produce many good results.
When asked about the play in question, Tippett approached it with the wisdom of years.
“It’s a play where you’ve got to stay with it all the way through, ” Tippett said. “You can hope the referee blows the whistle but you’ve got to play it right ’til you hear the whistle.”
That’s the one of the first rules every athlete learns: Play to the whistle. Domingue will probably secure every puck he ever covers with his glove hand from now on. It was a hard lesson to learn in a season chock full of them.
When Domingue allowed four goals in the first period of Saturday’s 6-4 loss to St. Louis and was briefly pulled, he said he sat on the bench thinking one thing as he pondered this five-game road trip.
“I’ve got to bounce back right away,” he said. “Those were the words I was telling myself in the first period.
Domingue did bounce back, and there is little to complain about in the rookie’s unexpected season — one that has thus far saved the Coyotes’ season. It’s important to remember, however, that he is a rookie who had four NHL starts before this season.
“I’m still learning every day,” he said after the Blues game. “I’m becoming a better pro and a better goalie in this league.”
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