“There’s always competition for every position on our team, that’s the nature of sports…,” Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan after the morning skate on Saturday before his team faces the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center.
Sullivan tapped third goalie Louis Domingue to start against San Jose. Regular backup Casey DeSmith is in COVID protocol but has otherwise struggled this season when called. It will be Domingue’s first NHL start this season and second since 2019-20.
In eight starts, DeSmith has a paltry .888 save percentage and a 3.47 goals-against average. He does have one shutout as part of a two-game burst in December, during starter Tristan Jarry’s COVID protocol absence. DeSmith’s record is 3-3-1.
Domingue had solid seasons with Tampa Bay in 2018-19. His record was 21-5-0 with a .908 save percentage. In 2015-16, he appeared in 39 games for the Arizona Coyotes with a 15-18-5 record but a .912 save percentage.
However, Domingue has been bounced around over the last three seasons. He has 140 games of NHL experience, some as a primary starter, but more as a backup. His career save percentage is just .904, but that number fell after a tiresome 2019-20 season in which he played for four different teams including the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks in the NHL, and their AHL affiliates.
His record also fell to below .500, at 58-59-10.
Last season, Domingue played just four games because he was a member of the Vancouver Canucks Taxi Squad. It was the NHL equivalent of Siberia as the squads were isolated from the team in case of COVID outbreaks.
“I bounced around that year when I went from Tampa to Syracuse, to Binghamton, to Jersey to Vancouver, then in the bubble, and then I went to Calgary where I played–I didn’t play really,” said Domingue in training camp. “I practiced with three persons on the ice every morning before the team practiced.”
It was an isolated existence that wore on Louis Domingue, who shocked reporters (including this one) when I asked him to clarify an answer about staying motivated.
“When I look back, I left some on the table, left some on the table in (New) Jersey, not because I wasn’t working hard, but to me, it’s all about my headspace–the way I’m approaching my work and my game and my level of motivation,” admitted the goalie. “And this summer–you don’t have to look further than this summer–I wasn’t in a good head space whatsoever. I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe that I could be back to where I was and, to be honest, my game on the ice, even in practice, it wasn’t showing that either…”
He credited Pittsburgh Penguins goalie coach Andy Chiodo for reaching out and restoring his passion for the game.
“I came here thinking I was motivated, but I really wasn’t. And now it really, really switched for me, like, instantly, I feel it,” Domingue said. “And that’s something that’s hard to get, and right now I feel it. I feel motivated. I feel like I’m going somewhere. And I made the decision to invest everything into myself and into how I could leave nothing behind.”
Domingue has spent most of the season with the WBS Penguins, with a .918 save percentage with a 2.69 GAA.
“There’s always competition for every position on our team. That’s the nature of pro sports. Why did we decide to go with Louis tonight? Because we’re trying to manage workloads with Tristan and he’s had a heavy workload to this point,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to make sure that we manage the workload moving forward. So we keep both of our goaltenders, all of our goaltenders, in the best possible position to be successful.”
Whether Sullivan is challenging DeSmith or opening the door to full competition for the Pittsburgh Penguins backup spot is a matter for speculation. DeSmith has a stellar .913 save percentage in his 78-game NHL career, but this season has been a struggle. And backup goalie could be one of the Penguins few shortcomings.