GLENDALE, Ariz. –– On Thursday morning, Coyotes goalie Niklas Treutle was preparing to fulfill his dream of starting in the National Hockey League. By Thursday night, Treutle was recounting the nightmare that was his first NHL start.
Treutle allowed goals on his first two shots (one because he misplayed a puck behind the net) and he stopped just 11 of 16 shots in two periods before Louis Domingue replaced him in Anaheim’s 5-1 victory at Gila River Arena.
“It was a rough start,” Treutle said. “Three plays into the game and you’re down 2-0.”
Here’s how Treutle’s first 10 minutes looked.
He mishandled a dump-in behind the net and then banked the passing attempt off Corey Perry’s shin pads and onto Jamie McGinn’s stick behind the net. With Treutle scrambling to get back in position, McGinn tucked the puck inside the near post at 4:52 of the period on Anaheim’s first shot.
With Jordan Martinook off for high-sticking, Perry set up center Rickard Rakell on a perfect backdoor feed for a 2-0 lead at the 5:38 mark.
Just before the midpoint of the period, Treutle fired a puck over the glass, drawing a delay of game penalty.
As Treutle skated back to net from the bench after a break in the action with his mask off, he looked up at the scoreboard then muttered to himself, punctuating it with a fierce shake of his head.
When asked after the game if he had any regrets about starting the rookie against the NHL’s hottest team, coach Dave Tippett was frank.
“I had no choice,” he said. “I’ll take the responsibility. We put a young player in a position he’s not ready for. It’s obvious he’s not ready for it but Louis has played 11 straight; looked tired on the road. That’s where we are.
“We have to get Louis a break. That’s too much to ask for a young guy. That being said, throwing the young guy in there tonight was probably too much to ask for him, too.”
In an ordinary season, Treutle would never have had to play this game. Injuries to starter Mike Smith and backup Andres Lindback have put Arizona in a dire situation with its goaltending, however, and general manager Don Maloney opted not to acquire one with the expectation that Smith would be back by now.
Smith underwent lower abdomen surgery in mid-December. He was projected to miss eight to 10 weeks. It’s been 11½ weeks and he still has not returned.
It’s difficult to gauge whether the Coyotes are frustrated with his progress. When asked Thursday if he had any idea when Smith would return, Tippett shook his head.
“He’s still practicing,” Tippett said. “That’s all I know.”
With five weeks left in the season, the Coyotes are approaching a point where it won’t make sense to bring Smith back. Then again, Domingue can’t shoulder the load by himself, the Coyotes don’t have any other prospects in a poorly managed pipeline and it’s unfair to ask Treutle to make this leap so soon when he was simply supposed to be the backup in Springfield of the AHL.
“The team looked alright to me,” said Treutle in a moment of absolution his teammates probably didn’t deserve. “Guys were playing hard. It’s tough when you’re playing one of the best teams in the league and you’re chasing from the beginning.”
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