If there’s anyone who’s almost single-handedly saving the season for the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s goalie Ben Bishop.
When the team lost superstar forward Steven Stamkos to a severely broken leg back in November, it was incredibly easy to label the Lightning as dead in the water. Sure they had some talent, like longtime mainstay and captain Martin St. Louis, but having Stamkos sidelined for several months was a devastating blow. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Tampa’s season derailed from that moment on.
What is surprising people, however, is the fact that the Lightning are currently sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference. How so? Well, that’s thanks to the man they have in between the pipes.
Bishop, who wasn’t even the team’s starting goalie when the season opened up, is having a stunning year so far. His current record is 28-8-4, with a sparkling 1.98 GAA and .933 save percentage. Combined, these numbers are doing a lot to make Bishop a top contender for the Vezina Trophy.
There’s just one problem; lately, Bishop is having some issues staying healthy.
In the span of a month, he’s been pulled from three separate games due to various injuries to the wrist, head and upper-body. Though his latest injury occurred last Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was able to return for an impressive win against the Detroit Red Wings Saturday.
Still, with Bishop doing everything he can to keep the Lightning contending, the team can’t be psyched to see him get hurt so frequently. Head coach Jon Cooper has admitted he’s getting concerned about his netminder’s durability, which is understandable. One has to wonder if the first year as an official starter is wearing Bishop down.
The most games Bishop has played in one season is 22, accomplished last year with Tampa and the Ottawa Senators. This season? He’s appeared in 44 games, all starts. In case you’re wondering, that’s just one less game than his entire career combined coming into this season.
It’s evident that Bishop clearly hasn’t dealt with this much playing time in one season, and now it’s leading some to wonder if these latest minor injuries are evidence that he might be incredibly fatigued because of it.
It certainly wouldn’t be a criticism of Bishop. He was eventually going to see increased playing time, especially with the year he’s having. You can’t blame Tampa for seeing the performances their getting from him and elevating his role with the team. He’s never been the guy a club leans on at a nightly basis, so the sudden surge in starts was going to prove difficult for him when it comes to maintaining his conditioning.
At the same time, the Lightning have voiced their concerns, and now they need to make sure they handle Bishop appropriately. This two week Olympic break will be huge for the American netminder, who, despite an impressive audition, didn’t make the cut to play for his country. But Tampa also has to monitor his workload once the games resume.
The fact that the Lightning are excelling without one of their best players is amazing, and Bishop deserves a ton of praise. But if the team wants to make the playoffs and go on a deep run, they need to ensure their goalie is in the best condition possible.