TAMPA—The Lightning has been without Andrei Vasilevskiy for two weeks now, and it is right where it was before the star goaltender got hurt: atop the Atlantic Division..
Louis Domingue has stepped into the No. 1 role with little issue, coming up with big saves and putting the Lightning in the position to win through his nine consecutive starts since Vasilevskiy fractured his left foot in practice Nov. 14.
Exactly like the Lightning drew it up when trading for him last season, right?
Not exactly. A year ago, Domingue was an insurance policy. The Lightning had its star goaltender in Vasilevskiy and a backup it trusted in Peter Budaj. Tampa Bay traded for Domingue from the Coyotes just in case something went wrong.
Then something — actually, some things — went wrong.
First, Budaj wasn't playing great, then he got hurt. That moved Domingue from No. 3 to backup. This season, Domingue was secure in that role, in position to relieve Vasilevskiy, who got worn out down the stretch last season. Then Vasilevskiy got hurt.
That brings us back to this current stretch.
"He ended up making us look good," general manager Julien BriseBois said. "He went beyond what realistically we could have expected and has done everything we could have hoped for."
So what did the Lightning see when it traded for a goalie who was on his way out of the league?
After starting last season without a win in six games, Arizona assigned Domingue to the AHL, but he wasn't actually sent to the team. He was stuck in limbo. Yet, the Lightning saw enough to trade for him in November 2017.
BriseBois listed a few factors for the trade: Domingue had been a No. 1 goalie before. He has athleticism and size. He had worked with Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean in juniors. The Lightning figured a fresh start might be what Domingue needed to get back on track.
"If he was doing great in Arizona, he wouldn't have been available," BriseBois said.
The Lightning had watched Domingue's work and knew he had been a good goalie. With the whole Arizona team struggling, the Lightning didn't believe it was fair to put all the blame on Domingue. The management group held that putting him in a different situation with different resources would yield a different result.
"He showed up at (AHL) Syracuse and he wanted to help the team win," BriseBois said. "He had a great attitude from Day 1. He put his head down and worked and got rewarded with some great performances there."
A player in that position might believe he needs to prove something. Anyone in a new job wants to do well, especially someone who wasn't sure if that new job would come.
Domingue, however, made a point to avoid putting that pressure on himself. He had already learned that lesson the hard way.
In his second full NHL season, Domingue got the chance to be No. 1 in Arizona when Mike Smith got hurt. His eyes got big looking at the opportunity in front of him. Domingue said he overpracticed, put too much emphasis on every little thing and ended up mentally fatigued.
Throughout the last year with the Lightning — when joining the organization, when he was called up last season and with this stint as the No. 1 —Domingue has kept that in mind.
He hasn't been perfect stepping in for Vasilevskiy, who will miss his 10th straight game when the Lightning visits the Panthers tonight. Domingue looked a little tired in Thursday's 5-4 win over Buffalo, but he has proven more than capable in going 6-3-0 in the past nine.
"You can dissect every goal that is scored in a game," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Thursday night. "But when the game is on the line, do you get the save? He got the save."
Even in a 6-5 overtime win at Philadelphia on Nov. 17, Domingue, who had little defense in front of him, made a couple of big saves to get to overtime.
Not bad for someone who joined the organization without fanfare a year ago.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.