Louis Domingue seizing his NHL opportunity

What's playing out in the desert these days once again proves that goaltender is the most difficult position to scout and predict.

It is also one of the season's great, unforeseen tales.

Louis Domingue is helping the surprising Arizona Coyotes stay in a playoff spot after veteran No. 1 Mike Smith went down with a two-month injury in early December.

Please raise you hand if you had those story plots scripted in September.

That's what I thought.

"It's amazing what's going on with our team right now, period. Not just for me but for the whole team; we're trying to prove we're a playoff team to everyone," Domingue said over the phone Sunday in French.

When Smith went down, general manager Don Maloney stated he would look around for goaltending help.

Instead, Domingue, 23, ran with it after Anders Lindback faltered, allowing Maloney to sit tight on those trade calls.

Domingue is 6-0-2 in eight starts since being called up, with a 1.73 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

"Keeping it very simple, not overthinking it, just staying within myself," said Domingue about his approach. "We're in such a nice run right now as a team; that it really helps me do my job."

Drafted 138th overall in the fifth round in 2010, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Domingue was projected this season to be the No. 1 guy in AHL Springfield and work his way toward an NHL job next season.

Instead, Domingue has grabbed onto his unexpected opportunity.

"He is calm and confident," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett via text message Sunday. "Positioning and reading the play is very strong and he plays the puck outside the net very well. He has done a very good job of earning the confidence of his teammates and has given our team a very big boost."

Former Coyotes executive and goalie coach Sean Burke always saw a naturally gifted athlete.

"Louis's biggest assets are his instincts and reading the game," said Burke via text message Sunday. "Physically, he is big and athletic, but he is one of those guys that just seems to be able to get the job done when he plays. Believes in himself and his ability and finds a way to win hockey games. He's that kid that played a lot of shinny as a skater and understands the game not just from a goalie's point of view. Good hockey sense, you would say."

Maloney feels the difference for Domingue was realizing the work that needed to accompany that talent.

"Louie always had as much natural ability as any goaltender we have had in our system, but his work habits were inconsistent," the Coyotes GM said via email Sunday. "Whether it was his time served as backup to Mike Smith last season or simply natural maturation, the light went off this past year and he figured out how hard you need to work to play in the NHL. He has always been very confident in his ability and is taking advantage of his opportunity."

Domingue appeared in seven games last season with the Coyotes, his first taste of the NHL, going 1-2-1 with a .911 save percentage and 2.73 GAA.

"I think his time up in the NHL last year really showed him what it's going to take to be a true professional," the injured Smith said of his young teammate via text message on Sunday. "It's obvious Louis has learned from that experience and has taken an unbelievable opportunity and made the most of it. Really happy for him and hope it continues."

What Domingue needed to rebuild over the past few seasons was his confidence to some degree. It got shaken during his last few junior seasons playing for Patrick Roy on the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"Those were long years," said Domingue, who was called out by Roy in the local media.

Perhaps Roy's tough love will make him better in the long run as far as building his character. Either way, that's old news.

These days, Domingue's phone is filled with text messages from family and friends who are loving every minute of his dream run.

"It's hard not to be surprised by what's happening," said the native of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec. "Even if my family and friends believe in me, it's still a little above what everyone's expectations were this season for me. Just getting a lot of texts supporting me, telling me to keep working hard.

"My approach right now is really simple, not looking past the next game, still trying to prove myself."

And for now, still living in a hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"I haven't got the OK yet to find a place. I'm working in that direction, hopefully," Domingue said, chuckling.

If he keeps this up, he'll be apartment shopping soon enough.