Marc-Andre Fleury

Ben Bishop is (quietly) off to promising start for Stars

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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.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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One thing that won’t fade for Vegas Golden Knights this season

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Plenty of smart writers and number-crunchers have tackled the subject of “How good are the Vegas Golden Knights?” or “How long will this last?” Today’s Morning Skate collected some of the best. 

Allow this hot take: while the wins and points are likely to dry up – to at least some extent – there’s one thing that shouldn’t go away for this edition of the Vegas Golden Knights: motivation. For better or worse, we’ve rarely seen an NHL team brimming with so many players fighting for careers, reputations, and millions of dollars.

If the bottom falls out as far as the standings go, it will still be interesting to follow these situations. Contending teams may feel the same way during the trade deadline, at least when it comes to Vegas’ many expiring contracts.

With that in mind, let’s break down this roster to examine the not-so-quiet desperation in Vegas.

Contract years

If you want a quick look at how open-ended the Golden Knights’ future is at the moment, consider their spending this season vs. in the future.

By Cap Friendly’s numbers, the Golden Knights are committed to a $70.87 million cap hit in 2017-18; that number goes down to $36.92M to 14 players in 2018-19 as of this moment.

James Neal: Coming into this season, the narrative felt like a solid power forward who gets a raw deal. Early on in this franchise’s young life, he’s turned into a hero.

He has little reason to stop pushing, at least considering this fork in the road. There are millions on the table for Neal, making him a great source for bad gambling metaphors (if you’re into that kind of thing).

David Perron: In many ways, he’s a lower-profile version of Neal. They both have shown dynamic scoring ability, though sometimes they’ve been frustrating. Each forward has a lot to prove and has also been around the league quite a bit. They’ve even both been traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins. They both face crucial contract years where they can turn heads with strong seasons.

And, hey, Perron had his own hero moment for the Golden Knights last night:

Jonathan Marchessault – Currently injured, but also in a prominent spot where his next contract could vary wildly.

A slew of defensemen – The Golden Knights’ logjam on D isn’t necessarily going to last long. There are only three notable blueliners – and as you likely know, Vegas has a ton of them – with more than one year on their deals: Nate Schmidt, Griffin Reinhart, and Brad Hunt.

The likes of Jason Garrison and Luca Sbisa have seen better days. Even so, maybe the fear of a dull free agent market and/or getting benched for one of Gerard Gallant’s many other options will push their “compete levels” to new heights?

Something to prove

Speaking of Gallant, there’s little doubt that he likely has a chip on his shoulder stemming from the way things ended with the Florida Panthers.

He has quite the opportunity on his hands: a relatively competent roster for an expansion team, yet he’s also graded on a curve because this is an expansion team. Has Gallant already locked up at least some top-five Jack Adams votes?

Goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban – Both being on two-year deals provides some inherent motivation, but even considering their very different careers up to this point (“MAF” has more Stanley Cup rings [3] than Subban has NHL wins [2]), they each likely have some fire in their bellies.

“The Flower” handled the end of his Pittsburgh Penguins days with incredible grace. You have to think that he wants to prove that they made the wrong choice, or at least that he still “has it.”

Subban’s inspiration is even more obvious, as the former first-rounder aims to prove that he’s a true NHL goalie. While his development did slip in the Bruins organization, it’s not as if he was downright awful in the AHL.

Vadim Shipachyov – He didn’t just have to wait until age 30 for his first crack at the NHL. Due to the multitude of defensemen, “The Ship” also had to wait to make an impression in Vegas. Expect him to make up for lost time.

Reilly Smith – There are players who were claimed with things to prove even with relative comfort in Vegas; Cody Eakin probably feels insulted by the Stars exposing him to the expansion draft.

Smith is a rare case of a quality everyday NHL player who was just given away in a trade. The Panthers didn’t need to give up both Smith and Marchessault, but they did. That should give him at least a short-term boost, right?

The weird mascot: You think that “Chance” the Gila Monster hasn’t seen your disparaging tweets?

(Kidding. And also afraid.)

***

Look, ignore the hot takes. Most professional athletes care deeply and work hard. Sidney Crosby‘s future has been set since day one, and yet look at how he attacks a meaningless training moment with Brad Marchand:

Still, human nature plays a role in these things, and you will see many players in “survival mode” in Vegas.

That might not be great for tanking purposes, but it sets the stage for a fascinating season for the Golden Knights.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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The Buzzer: Milestone night in Vegas, Johnson backstops Sabres to first win

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Player of the night: Malcolm Subban, Vegas Golden Knights

There were a few candidates tonight, particularly from the Vegas Golden Knights victory over the Boston Bruins. Alex Tuch and Vadim Shipachyov both made their debuts for the expansion team and both scored their first career NHL goals.

Vegas goalie Malcolm Subban also recorded his first career NHL win, stopping 21 of 22 shots faced as the Golden Knights held on in the end for a 3-1 victory. Subban was solid. He made a difficult stop in close off Brad Marchand and helped defeat the team that put him on waivers only two weeks ago.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Subban, per NHL.com. “I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I’m just happy to get the win.”

Boston selected Subban in the first round of the 2012 draft, but he spent the vast majority of his time in the American Hockey League. Putting Subban on waivers prior to the start of this season was a risk the Bruins were well aware of, and he was claimed by the Golden Knights. He started Sunday, while Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on injured reserve.

Highlight of the night:

The Buffalo Sabres finally have their first win of the season. They received a goal from recently recalled forward Justin Bailey and a 25-save performance from Chad Johnson. He had the glove working in this one, but arguably his best save of the night was this pad stop on Nick Ritchie to keep his team in the lead, at least at the time, during the second period. The angle from behind the net shows just how close this puck came to going in, but Johnson managed to trap it right against the post before the mayhem ensued.

Factoid of the night:

Cam Fowler, selected 12th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2010 and still only 25 years of age, achieved a career milestone and made franchise history on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Scores:

Buffalo 3, Anaheim 1

L.A. 3 – NY Islanders 2

Vegas 3, Boston 1

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Subban records first career NHL win — against his old team, the Bruins

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Talk about (another) milestone night for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Alex Tuch scored his first career NHL goal.

Vadim Shipachyov, making his highly anticipated debut for Vegas, also scored his first career NHL goal, which eventually turned into the winner against the Boston Bruins. (You can read about it here.)

— And finally, Malcolm Subban, the former Bruins goalie prospect, recorded his first career NHL victory, which was nearly a shutout until Boston spoiled that with a late goal from David Pastrnak.

It wasn’t the busiest night for Subban, as Vegas captured a 3-1 victory.

The Bruins played the previous night, didn’t have Patrice Bergeron in their lineup, and only tested the 23-year-old goalie with 22 shots on net. It was, for Subban, a tidy outing but did include a sharp pad save on a chance in close from noted goal scorer Brad Marchand. That kept the game scoreless, allowing for Vegas to take the lead later on.

On a more personal level for Subban, this win comes against the team that brought him into professional hockey. The Bruins selected him with the 24th overall pick in 2012. Since then, Subban had spent the majority of his pro career in the American Hockey League developing his game, while making two appearances for Boston.

He entered Bruins training camp in a battle for the back-up job behind Tuukka Rask, but that role ultimately went back to Anton Khudobin. That led Boston to put Subban on waivers and he was picked up by the Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights are now 4-1 on the season, but their roster has undergone notable changes this weekend. Tuch and Shipachyov were recalled from the AHL and starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on injured reserve, giving Subban the opportunity to start against his former team.

Now, what will this mean for the Golden Knights going forward?

Maxime Lagace was on the bench tonight as the back-up, and Fleury is out for at least the next seven days. Vegas has two games this upcoming week, with three days in between those games, which are both at home. It would seem there is an opportunity for Subban to get into a rhythm with a stretch of games. For him, that would be another first at the NHL level.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Malcolm Subban expected to make Golden Knights debut — against the Bruins

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Just two weeks after being placed on waivers by the Boston Bruins, Malcolm Subban is expected to face his old team when they visit the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday.

The Golden Knights’ roster has seen significant changes since Friday’s loss to Detroit, with starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury going on injured reserve.

Training camp started with a competition for the back-up goalie position in Boston, with Subban and Anton Khudobin going for the job behind starter Tuukka Rask.

In the end, Khudobin was successful in keeping the job and the Bruins, who knew there was a risk of losing Subban, placed their 2012 first-round pick on waivers.

Subban, who has appeared in only two NHL games during his time with the Bruins, was then picked up by the Golden Knights.

“I think Malcolm has taken a step, and I’m not surprised in the situation. Vegas is doing what they’re trying to build… It’s disappointing,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, per WEEI. “We’ve had a lot of time invested in Malcolm, and we are seeing him grow as a person on and off the ice. It’s a loss for our hockey club. The system is in place for a reason.”

Subban is still searching for his first career NHL win. It would make quite a story if he achieved it against the team that drafted him.

For the Bruins, it’s been an up-and-down week. They dropped a pair of games to the Colorado Avalanche and were outscored badly (10-3) in the process, before going into Arizona and embarrassing the Coyotes on Saturday.

The Golden Knights started with three straight wins, but a bad third period against Detroit resulted in their first loss of their expansion season. Their lineup is expected to feature a few different pieces on Sunday.

Vadim Shipachyov, who boasted terrific numbers in the KHL throughout his career there and was officially recalled from AHL Chicago on Saturday after a few days of controversy amid reports he wanted to go back to Russia, is also expected to make his highly anticipated Golden Knights debut versus the Bruins.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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