When Louis Domingue was claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, I was taken aback because I recalled seeing the goaltender draw attention to himself by way of performances for the Arizona Coyotes. At the time, I thought he was due to become the eventual replacement for ‘Yotes goaltender (and former Bolt) Mike Smith while also stepping into a slot of elitism that former Coyote (and Lightning alumnus) Nikolai Khabibulin once held.
What the hell put Domingue on waivers to begin with is a story I didn’t know. It’s a story I’m not getting into here. I’m getting into the now .…
With the injury to Andrei Vasilevskiy, Dommer has become the Bolts starting netminder. I can’t say everything has been perfect for him in net… in fact, I’ve seen a lot of fan criticism toward him. Comparisons to Marc Denis(who served in net during Lightning 2006-07 and 2007-2008; 54 games total, a tenure-average GAA of 3.62 and a .871 save percentage). That criticism was born in October, well before Vasy’sinjury, with Domingue’s return start and flop against the Coyotes.
Domingue’s season numbers aren’t perfect, but they’re a far cry from a liability. Credit goes to the team in front of him, of course, but as the last line of defense between the puck and the net, the man has done his duty. 18 game appearances and he’s 14-4-0 with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
Those might not be the common numbers of Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop, or Nikolai Khabibulin, but they sure as hell are a sight better than Denis and many other backstops in Bolt history. They’re more comparable to Mike Smith, who tended the pipes for Tampa Bay in the down years of 2008 through 2010(numbers average). In fact, Domingue’s save percentage is more comparable to the Bolts first top-tier netminder in Darren Puppawho’s save percentage was consistently around .905, helping Tampa Bay make the playoffs for the first time ever in 1996.
Domingue was named as the second star of the week by the NHL on Monday, a pretty nice accomplishment for the man. It should also serve as a bit of a message to his critics (in Tampa Bay and in Arizona for that matter): Louis can do the job. In fact, it’s a missing aspect of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey that’s stood up by Domingue serving well: There’s a capable second goalie on the roster and the #1 netminder (Vasilevskiy in this case) doesn’t have to take the bulk of the starts.
And I do really mean bulk: Vasilevskiy played in 65 games last season; he was in net in 50 in 2016-17. Ben Bishop, Vasy’s predecessor and the all-time winningest netminder in Bolt history, served between the pipes 63times (2013-14), 62 times (2014-15) and 61 (2015-16) in his three full seasons with the Lightning. I point to these numbers because it’s a wear-down factor on the goalies. Start, start, start… They might be good, but too much work rubs down their ability. When kept fresh, elite men remain elite (counterpoint: they could also become out-of-practice by not participating in regular play, but that remains to be seen). Of course, elite goalies also have incredible drive: Vasysaid he was good to go after his foot-break.
Andrei Vasilevskiy returns to practice this week. I’m not sure if he’ll be back in the pipes in 2018, but it may happen. Until then, the Bolts continue to have a backstop worthy of the task.