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What’s Wrong With (Critiques of) Big Ben Bishop?

What’s Wrong With (Critiques of) Big Ben Bishop?
Ben Bishop uses his big frame while executing the Reverse, a move that has been mislabeled as a sign he is "shaky" in the playoffs.  (InGoal Photo by Clint Trahan)

Big Ben Bishop uses his big frame while executing the Reverse, a move that has been mislabeled as a sign he is “shaky” in the playoffs. (InGoal Photo by Clint Trahan)

There has been a lot of notice taken of Ben Bishop lately. As one of four starting goalies in the NHL still active, his play has come under a lot of scrutiny – some of it fair, some of it less than fair.

Much of the criticism begins and ends with some variation of the word “shaky,” although that usually remains undefined. Some of this criticism unfortunately misattributes whatever struggles Bishop has had the past two weeks to his mental state. And some of it shows a lack of understanding of modern goaltending techniques.

The result is analysis that critiques Bishop for something he’s actually quite good at while overlooking the areas that tend to create problems for him.

In particular commentators have mistaken Bishop’s frequent use of the Reverse Vertical-Horizontal technique on the post as evidence he is mentally or technically shaky. It stems from an ignorance of what the Reverse is, what it looks like, and why it is used. From Dave Lozo at the Bleacher Report:

Just about any time a left-handed skater had the puck along the left-wing boards near the goal line, Bishop was down on a knee hugging the post for dear life. If anyone shot the puck from the near-impossible angle, he was lunging into the post as if he was trying to head-butt the spot where the post and crossbar meet.

This is actually a description of nothing other than the Reverse-VH, and not the only one that has missed the mark in the Eastern Conference Final. Commentators from both national networks have talked about Bishop being down on his knees too early when he is in fact using the Reverse on a dead-angle play the same way he has all season. Far from being evidence of Bishop’s mental weakness under playoff pressure, it’s proof that many observers still do not recognize a move that is a fundamental, if sometimes overused, part of the modern goalie’s toolbox.

In 2012, InGoal published an in-depth breakdown of the position with help from Dallas Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley. The Reverse, it was noted:

covers off both angles as well as the traditional VH, working effectively on wraps and jam plays as well as sharp-angle shots on low-high pass outs from behind the net. But it is less of a “locked-in” blocking position, allows the goalie to stay more active and reactive, makes it easier to find loose pucks along the ice down low after making a save, and is a lot easier to transition out of than VH.

Bishop’s use of the Reverse is not evidence of a dip in performance or fatigue or loss of confidence. The technique is so much a part of his repertoire that his reliance on it was noted in multiple places prior to this series.

Ben Bishop finds the puck through traffic. (InGoal Photo by Clint Trahan)

Ben Bishop finds the puck through traffic. (InGoal Photo by Clint Trahan)

The reverse is a valuable tool when used properly and executed well, just like every other save selection. By and large, Bishop does well with it, although he is not perfect. He can go into the move too early and stay in it too long. He can leave holes above his post-side pad, a function of using his skates on the post, which leaves a big gap and forces him to lean hard to get a good post seal.

Still, Bishop’s use of the reverse has not in and of itself been a major concern for the goaltender. His big frame blocks off a lot of net, even when he goes paddle-down. The move plays to his strengths, especially size, while helping him avoid some of his weaker areas, especially skating.

The real concerns about Bishop’s game lie not in “hugging the post for dear life” but in poor tracking that affects his basic mobility, rebound control, and ability to recover across the crease.

As noted in the playoff goaltending breakdown earlier this month, at times Bishop “drops and reaches with his glove and legs rather than shifting or pushing his body into the puck, leaving him stranded when that aggressive positioning creates extra recovery distance not even his long limbs can erase.” In these situations his weight and momentum work against him and he ends up attempting to reach for the puck with his feet and hands.

Again, however, this is not a new development for Bishop.

It is a tendency that has plagued him for more than a year. This tracking issue has shown itself in Bishop’s generally mediocre numbers for the 2014-15 season. In the regular season Bishop had a .916 save percentage and a 2.32 goals-against average, compared to the .924 and 2.23 that earned him a Vezina Trophy nomination in 2013-14.

Bishop’s particular tendency towards losing visual attachment, combined with his tendency to shift off the puck instead of into it are of far greater concern for his game than his use of the Reverse.

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.


  1. pj

    The commentators rarely know anything about goaltending (except Brian Boucher of course) however I do think Bishop is subpar and his size has made up for some lack of skill, especially his footwork. If he were 3 inches shorter he wouldn’t be where he is today unless his size is entirely why he isn’t an excellent skater.

  2. B

    Funny, no one was criticizing Quick for using the rvh technique,but that’s because he wasn’t 6-7. One critique I have of Bishop’s technique(as well as others) is they leave space up top,rather then being more upright and taking away all the space with your mask or if your Bishop,shoulder. Is Bishop overrated? Maybe. His tracking is subpar especially glove side,could be a mental thing or due to his size and his relying on pucks hitting him,especially when he makes standing saves. One thing I’ve kind of grown to like about him though and maybe what people call “shaky”, is his demeanor in the net. He looks a little nervous in the mask and I think a lot of goalies out there can relate to that feeling. You have to give the kid credit for going out there and battling,knowing the pressure and the criticism. Regardless of being 6-7, it takes a special person to go out there and stop pucks and face the pressure of the NHL playoffs. Now let’s see what he has against some Western Conference fire power,should be interesting.

  3. sylvain gougeon

    Shaky, maybe. Lazy at times, maybe too. Moving that big frame requires a lot of energy he could use some more core training,and do another sport that will make his footwork better. I don’t think we’ll ever see him at dancing with the stars!

    • Ben

      Totally agree, I do think he borders on lazy at times, which may be why he loses track of the puck.

  4. Ben

    It’s not his use of the Reverse VH in (almost) all situations I have an issue with. That is just taking advantage of his strengths. My issue is that he tracks the puck poorly and doesn’t skate or move particularly well. He’s fortunate his frame makes up for these shortcomings. I think he’s in trouble vs. the Blackhawks in the Final.

  5. Bill

    The kid took his team to the Stanley Cup Finals by beating the two best goalies in the world. He deserves it regardless of anyone’s opinion or technical analysis