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2016 Playoff Preview: Ben Bishop vs. Jimmy Howard

2016 Playoff Preview: Ben Bishop vs. Jimmy Howard

For the second season in a row, the Tampa Bay Lightning will face the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Last year, the series went to seven games, as Detroit’s Petr Mrazek was able to shut down the Lightning’s high-powered offense.

Ben Bishop

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After backstopping the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, Bishop finds himself in the thick of the Vezina conversation. He has posted a .926 overall and a .930 at 5v5. But the playoffs are a different matter. The Lightning are suffering with injuries and even a great performance from Bishop might not be enough.

Bishop uses his 6’7″ frame and long legs to take up space even in the butterfly. When he’s on, he’s disruptive without being overly aggressive and has active hands that he uses to advantage. This season he has pulled his depth back to an extent from last year, and that may be helping him put up the numbers. His puckhandling has made him a key part of the Lightning’s breakout and power play strategies.

When’s he’s not on, he overchallenges and gets stranded, unable to recover across the crease as rapidly as needed. He’ll reach out with hands and feet, pulling off the puck. The key for Bishop this series will be integrating with his defense, now missing Anton Stralman. Bishop needs smart, strong play readers on defense to help him make the most of his strengths and prevent him getting stuck on lateral plays. Ensuring that Bishop mainly sees clean shots will be critical.

Jimmy Howard

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For a time it looked as though Howard would be supplanted by Mrazek. In the last half of the season, however, Mrazek began struggling due to groin issues and Howard played well enough that Detroit made the postseason for the 25th year in a row.

Nonetheless his performance has been less than inspiring. At a .906 overall and a .920 at 5v5, Howard has been below league average all year. Known for his aggressiveness in net, Howard still plays around the top of the crease for an opening depth, but the flow that has made that work in the past seems to be coming less easily to him at times.

Howard has always been better on his skates than on his knees and this seems to be exaggerated now. At his best, he remains patient on his skates, neither committing nor dropping to the ice too soon. He manages space well and has the timing to back his aggressiveness up.

At his worst, Howard’s lateral movement in the butterfly is rough and awkward and his hands slow. Backdoor attempts are a special concern because he can overcommit and hit the ice well outside the crease and this aggressive positioning puts a premium on being able to cover lateral space.

About The Author

Clare Austin

Clare Austin is a reluctant "stats nerd" living in Nashville, where she has never worn a cowboy hat or boots.

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