Saturday night was not the first time Louis Domingue stole a game for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The third-goalie who made his Penguins debut stopped 40 of 41 shots and swiped a win from the San Jose Sharks and, in the process, presented himself as a possible answer to the Penguins’ backup goalie issue.
Casey DeSmith has stumbled this season. After a summer of uncertainty regarding the Penguins backup spot, the struggles are ill-timed. Domingue is a big goalie finding his game and just might be the upgrade behind starter Tristan Jarry, for whom Penguins GM Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke denied looking.
The Penguins won 2-1 in OT at the SAP Center, thanks in large part to Domingue, 29, who signed two-way contract as a UFA last summer.
“I think Louie is a big part of it. He let us hang around in a game that we didn’t play very well,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “…Especially the first two periods.”
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan started Domingue for the stated purpose of giving Jarry some rest, but Sullival also referenced that every player is in competition. Was that a cryptic challenge to DeSmith and Domingue?
Louis Domingue rose to the occasion, but it wasn’t the first time he stood on his head in a Penguins sweater, even though it was the first time that counted.
You may remember, Domingue also held the fort for the Penguins in the preseason. Facing the Buffalo Sabres NHL roster in Buffalo, Domingue stopped 20 of 21 shots in the third period on Oct. 1 to preserve a 2-1 Penguins win. With an AHL roster, the team needed Domingue to be great. And he was.
After Saturday, Domingue has now played 141 NHL games in his career, which is nearly twice that of DeSmith’s 78 games. Domingue has displayed a sense of purpose to get back to the NHL. He conveyed the same emtion on Saturday night.
“You know, it wasn’t hard tonight just to stay focused. How could you (not) and play for the Penguins? The Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s a privilege to be on this team. It’s a privilege to be in this organization,” Domingue said. “And I think that’s how you should come out every night. I know there’s nights that’s not going to go your way and there’s nights that you’re not going to be as good. But bottom line is what a privilege it is to be here.”
More importantly than any feel good emotions, Domingue played exceedingly well.
Stylistically, he’s a big goalie at 6-foot-3, 208 pounds. He catches with his right hand, which does present a change for shooters. He moves well. And it appears that his fundamentals are strong.
Penguins backup goalie Casey DeSmith has struggled in eight starts this season. His save percentage is .888, and his GAA is near 3.5. Neither is good enough.
Conversely, Domingue has the eye of the tiger this season. He spoke candidly and passionately in training camp about losing confidence and motivation after being bounced around the NHL and AHL, and quarantined away from nearly everyone else as a member of the Calgary Flames.
“I had a good conversation with (new Penguins goalie coach) Andy Chiodo. And I’ve never been in a better space since,” Domingue beamed in training camp. “I’ve worked some things in my game right away that really made sense to me. And it kind of changed my whole mindset, the way I was seeing things, and I am in a good headspace right now.”
He’s played 10 AHL games with the WBS Penguins this season. Despite a 3-4-2 record, he has a .918 save percentage.
“I (feel) pretty good. It was how I visualized it. It was a long time coming and I was, you know, ever, ever since camp. I was prepared for this, this moment and I saw an opportunity and either take it or you don’t. And I thought tonight I came and focused and we played up until the last whistle. Great goal. Great win,” Domingue said.
His fundamentals were on point Saturday night, as well. From a sweeping poke check in which he didn’t break from his stance or position, to challenging shooters and reading plays, he was nearly unbeatable. His lateral movement was under control as were most if his rebounds.
It was an eye-opening performance. It could, perhaps should earn him another, though circumstances will be difficult for the Penguins. DeSmith will soon be out of COVID protocol.
“No, no. I mean, we all like each other. We all push each other. I’m just here to give a break to the Jarrs,” Domingue said. “And you know, whatever happens happens. But I’m certainly not thinking about any battle with any goaltender at all….
“I’m definitely not trying to steal anyone’s job, I’m just doing mine and trust me, it’s hard enough as it is to do your own job here.”
He may not be angling to displace DeSmith, but after looking around the league last summer, and DeSmith’s slumping performance this season, perhaps Penguins GM Ron Hextall can figure a way for an extended Domingue audition.
It could be another misfit who finds a home with the Pittsburgh Penguins. That seems to be par for this 2021-22 course.
Louis Domingue earned another chance or more. He has the pedigree to be an NHL goalie if called up on for weeks at a time. In 2018-19, he was 21-5-0 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And flirted with the starting job in Arizona before that.
Maybe the Penguins already had their solution behind Jarry. Maybe they’d like to see what they’ve got. And maybe Chiodo and the immediate rapport he established with Domingue is part of a career resurgence that began in September.
It would take one thing off Hextall’s shopping list.