GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes’ goaltending dilemma is on hold for another month.
General manager Don Maloney said Monday that he would be surprised if goaltender Mike Smith is ready to play any games in the month of February as he rehabs from lower abdomen surgery in mid-December. That means rookie Louis Domingue will continue to shoulder the load as the Coyotes enter the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
“He has certainly moved his career forward by leaps and bounds with the way he has played for us,” Maloney said of Domingue. “It’s still a relatively short body of work but there’s no denying the success he has had. He’s opened all of our eyes and he kind of fits in with what we’re trying to do here with younger people.”
Domingue was named the NHL’s rookie of the month on Monday after going 6-3-2 with a 2.20 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and one shutout in 11 January appearances. He is 9-5-3 with a 2.31 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and two shutouts in 17 games this season, giving the Coyotes an unexpected lift after Smith went down.
“I was totally aware of what was in front of me and I tried to make the best of it,” Domingue said. “I think I’ve shown I can be a regular in the NHL but it’s a matter of being consistent.”
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has been asked multiple times this season when it would be safe to say Domingue’s sample size of games is large enough for more serious discussion.
“When you dig into his numbers — not just the numbers everybody sees but the behind-the-scenes numbers — they are pretty strong,” Tippett said. “We always talk about a player that gets called up and they give you two or three good games and then he comes back to reality. He’s (past) that string. The sample size is getting big enough where you see trends and there have been a lot of good trends in his game.”
Smith was originally scheduled to miss between eight and 10 weeks after surgery. It has been seven weeks since the procedure.
Tippett said Smith skated four times over the All-Star break, but the medical staff made the determination that he is not ready to rejoin the team at practices so he will continue to skate on his own and he will be re-evaluated in a couple weeks.
When Smith returns, Maloney said Domingue wouldn’t have to worry about his place on the roster — even with Anders Lindback also under contract.
“The way Louis has played up to now, he certainly deserves the right to stick around even when Mike comes back,” Maloney said. “There are teams that carry three goaltenders, but we’ll see how that plays out.”
The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 29 so Maloney could also move Lindback if Smith looks ready to go and Domingue is still healthy in a month.
“I don’t even think about any of that because if I focus on that I might not do well with what is in front of me,” Domingue said. “We all want Mike back and we all want him to be healthy. Whether I’m playing when he’s back or not is not my decision. If I keep playing well, hopefully I’ll do enough to leave them with a tough decision to make.”
Kings at Coyotes
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Season series: Coyotes lead, 3-0-1.
Probable goalies: Coyotes — Louis Domingue. Kings — Jonathan Quick.
Injury report: Coyotes — G Mike Smith (abdominal surgery) and F Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are out. Kings — D Matt Green (shoulder surgery) is out indefinitely. F Kyle Clifford (upper body) could return.
Scouting the Kings: The Kings lead the Pacific Division by seven points over San Jose, despite losing three of their last four games before the All-Star break. … C Anze Kopitar leads the club with 42 points (29 assists). … L.A. is third in the NHL with a 2.27 goals against average.