As far as the eyeball test goes, Ben Bishop is the clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Tampa at the moment.
Just don’t go telling his head coach that.
Jon Cooper, perhaps out of fear of Bishop becoming complacent, says Bishop is still “earning” the starting gig in Tampa — even though the 6-foot-7 ‘tender has played in 11 of the last 14 games and is one of the NHL’s top goalies from the early part of the season.
“He has the job, but he’s earning the job,” Cooper told the Tampa Bay Tribune. “It hasn’t been given to him. Ben Bishop has holes, but I think he’s raised his competition level from last year to this year.
“He understands what we expect of him.”
Coming into this season, Cooper was adamant about not showing his cards on which goalie — Bishop or Anders Lindback — would be his No. 1.
He spoke of having two starting netminders and, on opening night, gave Lindback the start in a 3-1 loss to Boston. It was all in an effort to send Bishop the message that the No. 1 gig was to be earned, not handed to him.
“I think he may have thought that coming in this year,” Cooper said. “He didn’t start opening night. I think we’ve thrown challenges there … like when he was pulled (in a 5-0 blowout to Boston). Or not getting the start opening night.
“He seized it by having an exceptional game the next night.”
That “exceptional” game was a 37-save stunner in a 3-2 shootout victory over the defending Cup champs Chicago. Since then it’s pretty much been Bishop’s net full time, and he’s responded by going 9-2-0 with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage.
That said, it’s the first part of that statistical resume that Cooper really cares about.
“Quite frankly, goals against and save percentage are looked at by everybody as the key,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I only look at wins. It’s ‘Did he win the game?’
“That’s the only (stat) that matters to me.”