Keep­ing Bishop in net a key for sea­son

Goalie’s knee in­jury sounded death knell for 2018 play­off hopes

The Dallas Morning News - - Sportsday - Twit­ter: @MDeFranks

Matthew DeFranks: With some top tal­ent, the Stars know their play­off fate could de­pend on the health of goalie Ben Bishop.

BOISE, Idaho — Ben Bishop loves the ac­tion. It’s part of the rea­son he be­came a goal­tender as a child grow­ing up in St. Louis. Bishop ini­tially played for­ward but didn’t want to leave the ice. So add in his 6-7 frame and his agility, and play­ing goalie was a per­fect match.

For the Stars goal­tender, though, his ca­reer re­cently has been dot­ted with long pe­ri­ods of in­ac­tion at in­op­por­tune times. A knee in­jury ended Bishop’s sea­son pre­ma­turely last year, just as the Stars fell out of play­off con­tention with an eight-game los­ing streak. In the pre­vi­ous three sea­sons with Tampa Bay and Los An­ge­les, he was dogged by an­kle, groin and wrist in­juries to­ward the end of the sea­son or in the play­offs.

With Bishop out and Kari Le­hto­nen in net last sea­son, the Stars fin­ished three points out of a play­off spot. Bishop could do noth­ing but watch.

“I was kind of right where we wanted to be [be­fore the in­jury],” Bishop said. “I was in a good po­si­tion. Just a month or so left in the sea­son, I look at that 30-win mark. If you can get 30 wins, you usu­ally make the play­offs. I think it was 26 when I got hurt. I’m pretty con­fi­dent I could have got­ten four more. We missed the play­offs by two wins.”

Bishop holds the key to much of what the Stars want to ac­com­plish. They have a dy­na­mite top line. They’re hop­ing coach Jim Mont­gomery can squeeze pro­duc­tion from the other for­ward lines. They’ll boast a di­verse de­fen­sive corps that will try to carry les­sons from Ken Hitch­cock for­ward.

But play­offs teams need goal­tend­ing, and the Stars play in the same divi­sion as the Vez­ina Tro­phy’s top two fin­ish­ers last sea­son.

Bishop and the Stars can won­der what would have hap­pened if Dan Hamhuis never fell on top of him. What would the play­off run have looked like? Does a coach­ing change hap­pen? Does Bishop shed his la­bel of an in­jury-prone goalie? Bishop prefers not to think about it.

“Yeah, ob­vi­ously you can look at it like that,” Bishop said. “At the same time, you can’t do any­thing about it. You can look back and say ‘What if?’ but it’s kind of a waste of time.”

Bishop may not gar­ner the at­ten­tion na­tion­ally of other goal­tenders, but he is an elite one. Among goalies with as many games played as Bishop, only 13 in NHL his­tory have a higher save per­cent­age. Four are in the Hall of Fame. Five oth­ers have won the Vez­ina Tro­phy as the league’s best goal­tender. Then in­juries pop up again. “It’s a phys­i­cal game,” Bishop said. “You play a lot of games. I would say when I’ve been hurt, it’s just more bad tim­ing I guess. In­juries are go­ing to hap­pen when you play as many games as we do. It’s more about min­i­miz­ing the length of them. I haven’t missed many games as far as games played, but just sort of seemed to hap­pen at the end of the sea­son.”

Stars goal­tend­ing coach Jeff Reese added: “I’m sure he’s prob­a­bly sick and tired of talk­ing about the in­juries. He wants to prove that he can get through the sea­son here and have a good sea­son and hope­fully not get in­jured. He’s put the time in in the gym. He’s also been on the ice all sum­mer long.”

Bishop listed the ways he keeps his body in shape. There’s the nor­mal stretch­ing rou­tine. There’s the nu­tri­tion and the sleep and the mas­sages and the chi­ro­prac­tors. In the last five sea­sons, Bishop has av­er­aged about 55 games per sea­son. Only once did he play fewer than 50 games.

Bishop looks around the league and sees older goal­tenders suc­ceed­ing. Pekka Rinne won the Vez­ina Tro­phy last sea­son at 35 years old. Marc-An­dre Fleury (32) and Roberto Luongo (39) re­bounded from in­juries to post fan­tas­tic sea­sons.

Reese said Bishop’s hockey IQ al­lows him to move with the game, some­thing that comes with years of ex­pe­ri­ence.

“His hockey IQ is off the charts,” Reese said. “A lot of peo­ple look at goalies and they don’t think they need to have a high IQ. He un­der­stands the game very well. He knows where the puck’s go­ing to go be­fore it goes there. That’s a huge part.”

To Bishop, who turns 32 in Novem­ber, his age doesn’t mat­ter as much as his knowl­edge does.

“Most of our move­ments are pretty short and cal­cu­lated, so it’s not like you’re re­ally slow­ing down,” Bishop said. “You’re only mov­ing short dis­tances. It’s more about read­ing the play be­fore it hap­pens and be­ing in the right spot. You see most goalies play into their up­per 30s.

“I’m 31 now, I feel bet­ter than ever.”

Louis DeLuca/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Stars goal­tender Ben Bishop prides him­self on his abil­ity to read the play and know where the puck will end up.

Matthew.defranks@dal­las­news.com

MATTHEW DEFRANKS

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