GLENDALE – The Coyotes didn’t practice on Friday after getting home in the early morning hours from a three-game road trip on which they grabbed five of a possible six points.
Goalie Louis Domingue played all three games, won two of them and stopped 98 of 104 shots. The 23-year-old netminder, who began the season in the American Hockey League before being recalled on Nov. 23, is on quite a roll. In seven starts, he has posted a 5-0-2 record, a 1.97 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
“What Louis has done is as big of a surprise as we’ve had around here in years,” General Manager Don Maloney said in his office on Friday morning while gently knocking his wooden desk with the knuckles of his right hand. “And it’s not just in his wins and losses. It’s the way he’s playing and the calm demeanor that he has and the confidence that he’s playing with. You can just see it, and it feeds to the rest of the group.”
The Coyotes, who are in second place in the Pacific Division standings with 44 points, are waiting for starter Mike Smith to recover from core muscle surgery, but he likely won’t be available until March. His absence has given Domingue the opportunity to prove he’s a full-time NHL goalie.
“He’s given the team a chance to win in all of his starts and he doesn’t seem to get ruffled when the puck gets behind him,” Maloney said. “He’s really come in and grabbed hold of the No. 1 job and run with it.”
Domingue played seven games as Smith’s backup last season after the Coyotes traded backup Devan Dubnyk to Minnesota. But Maloney said the team was not comfortable with just handing the backup job to Domingue this season so he signed Anders Lindback for that role. Domingue then flirted with playing in Europe instead of re-signing with Arizona, but he eventually opted for a two-way contract with the Coyotes that landed him in the AHL to start the season.
Maloney said Domingue appeared more dedicated in training camp last fall and showed him and the coaches a willingness to work harder.
“A light seemed to go off for him last September, which we were all pleased to see,” Maloney said.
Domingue recently said that he feels much more comfortable in the NHL this season as opposed to last season.
“I have a total different approach to my game this year,” Domingue told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, the team’s flagship radio station. “Last year was really more of an experience where I was feeling out how everything works in the NHL. Now I know a little more and it really helps this year. I can just be confident and play games and not think about anything but stopping pucks.”
Maloney said Domingue, whom the Coyotes drafted with the 138th overall pick in 2010, has flashed many skills the past few weeks.
“He’s a good-sized goalie and he fills the net, but what I really like about him is that he catches a lot of pucks so he calms things down,” Maloney said. “He’s catching pucks, freezing pucks, getting whistles. We’re a good face-off team so we’d rather slow things down, get control and take our chances on getting possession of the puck on the face-off. And his puck play has been exceptional. He really has good instincts handling the puck behind the net and in his own zone.”
Domingue believes puck-handling is crucial to a goalie’s success and to gaining the respect of his teammates.
“That should be a huge part of any goaltender’s game these days,” Domingue said. “It helps the ‘D’ to get the puck out of the zone, and they don’t get hit as much and they like you more and they block more shots for you. It’s always good to help out that way.”
Domingue began his hockey career as a forward, but he eagerly switched to goalie in his second season when the goalie on his team injured a finger. Being an avid first baseman, Domingue was attracted to gloving loose pucks like he enjoyed snaring throws across the baseball diamond from his fellow infielders.
“I was actually better at playing baseball, but I just liked playing hockey more,” Domingue said.
The Coyotes begin a seven-game homestand on Saturday vs. Nashville. Domingue is expected to start.