It was an incredible season for Ben Bishop, despite the sour ending of being injured and unable to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He set career highs in every single major category, while almost tripling his previous high for most games played. Even though he is still a young 27 year old, playing 63 games in a season when you are only used to 20-25 can take a toll on your body.
Bishop saw a considerable drop off in his second-half play. His season finally came to an end due a dislocated left elbow, but it was a torn tendon in his right wrist that really derailed his season. He said it happened sometime in February, and his very average numbers post-Olympic break back his story up.
Those are some pretty astonishing numbers in the second half when comparing it side-by-side to the first half. Fatigue definitely played a part in the drop off, as Tampa Bay relied on Bishop quite heavily throughout the season. They’re an average puck-possession team, posting a 49.7% Corsi in all situations, and were 13th in the league in shots against. That was amplified when Steven Stamkos was out of the lineup.
In order to see if the injured wrist was the biggest issue plaguing Bishop, it was necessary to go back and look at how and where each of the 51 post-Olympic break goals were scored:With 21 goals scored on the glove side and 21 goals scored on the blocker side, some may point to the 9 five-hole goals as the biggest issue. He was beat slightly more up high on the blocker side, but not enough to build a case around. For that, we have to dig deeper into how the goals were being scored.
Playing the puck became troublesome for Bishop. He was never a fantastic puck handling goaltender to begin with, but he was better than what he showed in the second half. A chunk of the goals that he gave up were a result of a poor clearing attempt along the boards, or a complete mishandling of the puck. Clearly, gripping the stick and shooting became big issues with a torn tendon in his wrist.
With the deep, conservative style that Bishop plays, being constantly active and aware with the stick is essential. That took a large hit with an injured wrist, as he was unable to poke-check effectively in the second half. Players were cutting in close, walking around Bishop and scoring highlight-reel goals on plays where they would have been met with an active stick in the first half. Gustav Nyquist and Ales Hemsky both scored “goal of the year” candidates on Bishop on plays like that – and non-coincidentally, both of those goals came in the month of March.
It will be interesting to keep an eye on how a healthy Bishop performs next season. As Clare Austin recently pointed out in an article, most goaltenders start to see a steady decline in overall performance around age 27, which is exactly how old Bishop is. Not very many goaltenders improve greatly after their age 25 season, but it has happened at least twice in the last few years with Bishop and Mike Smith in Phoenix.
Even with some uncertainty surrounding Bishop, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in an enviable position in goal. Anders Lindback struggled in 13-14, but is a restricted free agent and still has the potential to turn into something because of his size. If they decide to part ways with Lindback, Kristers Gudlevskis showed that he is fully capable of stepping in as the backup to Bishop. He had a phenomenal Olympic experience with Latvia and performed very well in the limited action he saw with the Lightning after Bishop’s elbow injury.
If those goalies fail to impress, the Lightning also have a pair of KHLers that may be ready to make the jump to North America soon. Andrey Vasilevskiy and Jaroslav Janus have both had success for their KHL teams. Vasilevskiy is much more highly touted (being a first round pick in 2012) and larger in stature than Janus, but don’t rule the smaller Slovakian out. Janus has already spent time in North America, where he played his junior hockey for the Erie Otters. He also had modest success in the AHL before heading to the KHL in 2012, where he has had one very good season and one mediocre season. Vasilevskiy could be making his North American debut as soon as next season, as his KHL contract recently expired and the Lightning are attempting to sign him for next season.
(UPDATE: Vasilevskiy has signed a 3-year entry level contract with the Lightning)
Bishop will be going into a contract season in 2014-2015, is coming off two fairly major injuries, and has a few younger prospects nipping at his heels. His performance next season will be under the microscope, and will definitely be a fun storyline to keep an eye on.