TAMPA — Lightning backup goalie Louis Domingue was scheduled for his first start of the season tonight against Carolina. You could even say it's a rare start. As the backup to Andrei Vasilevskiy, Domingue might play less than any Lightning player. But don't think for a second that he's not critical to the team's success.
"This is a position that is extremely important,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "When you really think about it, if your backup goalie gets, what, 20-25 games a year? That's the difference between potentially making the playoffs or not. So it's extremely important.''
Case in point: last season. Domingue was acquired from Arizona early last season as insurance, but he ended up playing a key role when expected backup goalie Peter Budaj suffered an injury. Domingue finished with a 7-3-1 record in 11 starts. So he was responsible for 15 points in the standings. The last playoff team finished 16 points behind Tampa Bay. That proves how big every game is when your backup plays even if those occasions are rare.
"I know every goalie wants to play,'' Cooper said. "But this a job.''
It's a job Domingue, 26, has done well. A big reason is preparation.
"What we've watched from Louie in the last half of last year and (then) this year is he's really good at it,'' Cooper said.
To help with preparation, Cooper and the Lightning map out the goalie schedule as best they can days, if not weeks, in advance so each goalie knows when he is playing.
"Now I can't sit here and say, 'Is he playing game 76?' I can't say that,'' Cooper said. "Do you have a roadmap of a month ahead? There's no question. … The one big thing for us is role recognition. Here's your role. We talk about it so everybody is prepared and nothing is sneaking up on guys.''
Domingue said he found out a few days ago that he would be starting Tuesday. And, usually, whenever there's a back-to-back scenario – as there is this weekend when the Lightning plays Saturday in Minnesota and Sunday in Chicago — the goalies know they almost always will split the two games.
Still, the backup knows that every game he starts, he will need time to knock off the rust.
"Hopefully it will be quick in the game,'' Domingue said.
That's the hardest part for a backup: getting in a groove as fast as possible after sometimes going a couple of weeks with playing in a real game.
"It's just a matter of getting some touches, (even if) it's playing the puck behind (the net) or making some saves,'' Domingue said. "Ultimately it doesn't matter if you give up a goal in the first minute or the last, it's always how you respond after. So I'm just focused on one puck at a time and the game plan doesn't change.''
Carolina’s success no surprise for Lightning
Although many expected improvement, many did not expect this quick of improvement from Carolina.
The Hurricanes finished with a 36-35-11 record last season, and they are already off to a hot start. Carolina came into Tuesday's game with a 4-1-1 record having scored the third most goals in the NHL.
The Lightning, however, is not surprised. Not after their early glimpse of the new-look Hurricanes in the preseason.
"We saw them in the preseason for two games, and they out-scored us 10-2," Cooper said. "We full well knew what they were capable of doing. They have just carried that onto the regular season."