When the Dallas Stars traded for and signed Ben Bishop in mid-May, many thought the team’s goaltending woes were solved.
Just like the team, Bishop has shown great promise at times this season. Also just like the team, he needs more work.
The Stars are 20-14-3 and are currently in a wild-card spot as they near the halfway point of the season. They play Wednesday at Minnesota.
In 28 games with 27 starts, Bishop is 15-9-2 with a .910 saves percentage. Backup Kari Lehtonen has 13 appearances with 10 starts and has a .907 saves percentage.
Coach Ken Hitchcock, who led Dallas to the 1999 Stanley Cup championship during his first stint with the Stars, says Bishop is getting better as the season progresses.
“He’s had a slow start,” Hitchcock said. “Part of it is getting accustomed. Also, we weren’t playing very well five-on-five. As our five-on-five play’s picked up, I think Ben’s play has picked up. We’re more predictable on five-on-five now.
“We’re doing a better job, so he’s not seeing the odd-man chances down low that he was before and that’s a good sign. I think his play has reflected more our play,” he said. “He’s been solid. We’ve been more consistent, and it’s allowed him to be more aggressive.”
In a 4-3 shootout win Saturday over Nashville, Bishop stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced.
“You want to do anything you can to get the win. They got a couple in the first, but it was one of those things where it was early enough. One fluke play and one good shot, it wasn’t like they were jamming it down our throat,” Bishop said.
“So we felt pretty confident coming in after the first period and were able to regroup there and then a good second and third period too. Obviously, gave up a power play goal there, but when we kill off the power plays in overtime it kind of makes up for it.”
When the Stars are scoring, Bishop’s job becomes much easier. And the Stars have scorers. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn share the team lead with 32 points each.
“The big thing, too, is you have to have some guys that can score goals. When you have (Alexander Radulov), (Jason Spezza) and (Seguin) going out and putting goals in the net, it obviously makes it easier for the goalie,” Bishop said. “Definitely a lot of credit goes to those guys, and then just try to make the saves when you need to.”
A graduate of Frisco High School, Bishop has enjoyed returning to the area, even with the various bumps in the road he’s experienced.
“Yeah, it’s been nice. Obviously, it’s a great city to live in, great sports town, a lot of places to eat and enjoy life,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here.”
Now 31 and in his ninth NHL season, Bishop has been here before, adjusting to a new city, new coach and a new system, so he knows this process takes time. And the veteran goalie isn’t worried, even as he and the Stars find themselves in a dogfight for a playoff spot.
And he’s enjoyed playing under Hitchcock, the seventh head coach he has played for in the NHL.
“Obviously, he’s won a boatload of games in his career,” Bishop said. “The team takes some time to adjust to a new coach, new systems, and I think we’re finding our way now.
“It’s not like a light switch. It doesn’t come together overnight, but I think we’re finding it on a more consistent basis.”
Bishop is part of a group of talented newcomers headlined by Radulov and including veteran center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Marc Methot, who came to Dallas last summer.
Last off-season’s return of the most revered coach in Stars history, who led the franchise to its only Stanley Cup, along with these personnel additions gave playoff-starved Stars fans high expectations for this season.
“Yeah, it’s a good group of guys,” he said. “We’ve got team chemistry here, everybody gets along and it’s a lot of fun. The guys we brought in, we all seem to be meshing pretty well. I think it speaks a lot of the leaders here. They make it very comfortable for (new) guys to come in.”
Bishop said he’s also enjoyed practicing away from their home rink in Frisco on occasion. Earlier this season, the Stars practiced in Euless and in mid-December, did the same in Farmers Branch, experiences Bishop has savored, especially interacting with fans.
“It’s nice. It’s good for us too,” he said. “You get used to practicing in the same rink every day and it gets repetitive. It’s nice to mix it up, practice somewhere different in front of the fans.
“It adds a little something when you’ve got everybody watching. You up the level a little bit. It’s fun to come out, see the new rinks, meet the fans and sign some autographs.”
The race for a playoff spot is challenging, particularly coming out of the Western Conference Central Division where every team has at least 17 wins, led by St. Louis (23-13-2). The Stars are fourth.
“You look at our division (Central Division), every single team looks like they can make the playoffs. It’s tough,” Bishop said. “It’s not like there’s any easy nights out there anymore.”