Even after winning their last two games by matching 3-1 scores, the Dallas Stars are still off to a modest 3-3-0 start in 2017-18.
Such a record might cause some consternation, and possibly some criticism for the likes of Ken Hitchcock and Ben Bishop. Especially since Hitchcock has developed a reputation for providing the defensive structures that nurture strong numbers from a wide variety of netminders.
You might have missed this in part because Bishop was briefly sidelined by another weird failing of his goalie mask (check out his gross wound here, if that sort of stuff doesn’t turn your stomach).
Bishop is now 3-1-0 with a splendid .944 save percentage and a 1.49 GAA that might elicit fuzzy memories of Marty Turco’s prime for many Stars fans. Bishop’s been sharp since coming back from injury, including stopping 49 of 51 shots on goal during the last two games.
(Things haven’t been going quite as well for Kari Lehtonen, though.)
A valuable confidence-builder
When you look at the 30-year-old’s impressive .919 career save percentage, you might be surprised to learn that many still believe that Bishop has something to prove.
Some of that comes down to taste; NHL teams seek big bodies in net like those of Bishop, but his more “blocking” style leaves many less-than-impressed. There might be a small subset of observers who will pivot from crediting the Lightning’s system for blustering his numbers straight to giving Hitchcock the credit if Bishop continues his strong play.
(Note: Bishop’s almost certain to finish the season with a lower save percentage, unless he enjoys the sort of season we haven’t seen often since Tim Thomas was playing in Claude Julien’s system with vintage Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron hogging the puck.)
The thing is, you can see why the 2016-17 season might have shaken Bishop’s confidence.
For one thing, his numbers were down; his .910 save percentage between his final Lightning days and brief stint with the Kings is the lowest mark he’s sported since a .909 mark in 2011-12 (when he received spot duty with Ottawa).
Beyond the numbers, Bishop was traded by the team he helped lead deep into the postseason. It’s reasonable that Tampa Bay went with a younger goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, but much like Marc-Andre Fleury with Pittsburgh, you have to think that the season hurt Bishop’s pride to some degree.
So, yeah, it probably means quite a bit to Bishop to start strong.
Truer tests await
It’s good that Bishop shook off some cobwebs, because the Stars face stormier weather soon. They play one road game, one home game, and then go on a five-game road trip during the next seven contests. With only one back-to-back set, it’s feasible that the Stars will turn to Bishop for the bulk of those challenges.
(For more on the Stars’ schedule, check here.)
During an 82-game season, workhorse goalies are going to see peaks and valleys. Right now, Steve Mason is looking like a 1B at best in Winnipeg, but that could very well change. Carey Price probably won’t struggle through November, let alone all of 2017-18.
Ben Bishop will probably face some tough times. Judging by that schedule note above, it might not be long before his confidence is tested.
Still, it’s worth noting that he’s passing his early tests with flying colors.
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