GLENDALE – Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett on Monday said goalies Mike Smith and Louis Domingue each would get starts in net over the final 13 games of the season, but he stopped short of saying exactly how many each would be assigned.
“Both of them will play going forward,” Tippett said. “I think Louis has earned the right to continue to play. Mike, obviously, coming back and playing well, that’s a good sign. We’ve got two goaltenders that we feel real comfortable with now… We’ll go game by game.”
Smith, who underwent core muscle surgery in December, returned to the lineup on Saturday night after missing 40 games and promptly posted a 44-save shutout against the Edmonton Oilers. He said he felt tired and sore on Sunday, as he expected he would, but that he felt better on Monday, and he made it through the team’s entire 45-minute practice. The Coyotes will practice once more before their next game on Thursday at home vs. San Jose.
“I feel good about where my game is at, it’s just the body is more the issue than my game itself,” Smith said. “The aches and pains that go along with getting back into action I think will slowly decrease the more I get into the games.”
Smith said he never considered not returning to action this season, even when his recovery time extended beyond the original 8-10 week estimate assigned to it after the surgery.
“I was focusing on getting back and getting in some games and finishing off the season strong,” Smith said.
Smith credits Goaltending Coach Jon Elkin for helping him during his weeks of on-ice preparations for his return. He also thanks the team’s training and equipment staffs for the extra hours they worked to help him get back in the lineup.
“This is what I do,” Smith said. “I love to be in the net, I love to be around the guys and to compete. There is no other feeling that can simulate being in a game, and I just love to be out there and competing and trying to win.”
As for Domingue, Tippett said filling in for Smith the past three months has served him well. The rookie posted a 14-15-5 record, and a 2.71 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 35 games.
“The one way young players develop is to play,” Tippett said “…For him to get in and play that stretch of games, he really established himself as a player who can compete at this level. It was a great opportunity for him and the great thing about it is he seized the opportunity. Moving forward, that speaks very well for him.”
Domingue said he accepts the situation and welcomes more starts.
“It’s not my decision whether or not I play, but Mike played very well last game (on Saturday),” Domingue said. “I played pretty well against Calgary (on Friday). It’s just going to come down to whatever ‘Tip’ feels like. I’ve been (Smith’s) backup before. I know what it is, and I’ll be ready when I get told to go.”
Meanwhile, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson skated with teammates, briefly, at Monday’s practice wearing an orange non-contact sweater. Ekman-Larsson, who leads the team with 49 points, has missed the past three games because of a shoulder injury he suffered on March 7 vs. Colorado.
“He’s skating and we’ll see where he is on Wednesday,” Tippett said, referencing the team’s next practice. “He's kind of day-to-day, but we’ll be careful with him.”