The Tampa Bay Lightning are once again towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings. In a season full of adversity with injuries to key players and drama inside the locker room with the whole Jonathan Drouin situation, the team has once again proven that they are one of the top contenders to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Putting the puck in the back of the net was once an issue for the team early in the season, as the highest scoring team in the league during the 2014-15 regular reason struggled to even score one goal per game. The reason why the Lightning were able to still win most of those games was due to the brilliant play of goaltender Ben Bishop, who has once again entrenched his name into the Vezina Trophy conversation.
With a 2.09 GAA and .923 SV% in 42 games this season, Bishop has been flat out dominant every time he takes the crease. The combination of size, sheer athleticism, and the ability to play the puck all help his team in high intensity situations, especially when the rest of his team is not at their best.
There is no doubt Bishop, named to his first career All-Star game for his outstanding play during the first half of the 2015-16 NHL regular season, is in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy, an award given to the leagues top goaltender at the end of the season. Other names said to be in the conversation include Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, Cory Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers. What must Bishop to to put himself ahead of all those outstanding puck stoppers?
Shine during the second half of the season
Sure, being an All-Star always helps, but what you do during crunch time is what really cements your spot in the Vezina Trophy conversation. The Tampa Bay Lightning are currently in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, six points behind first place, currently occupied by the Florida Panthers. After a slow start really drowned the Bolts deep in the division standings, this recent stretch has put the team in a great position to possibly jump all the way to the top spot in the division. With a second half full of division games, this is the time of the year where you really turn it on and jump over those division foes in a tightly packed division race.
It will be up to Bishop to carry his team through this next 27 game stretch, with 10 of those games coming against division opponents. These are games the team can not longer afford to lose, meaning Bishop will need to be at his absolute best if the team wants to accomplish their goal of topping the Atlantic Division at seasons end.
Continue to raise key goaltender stats
Right now, Bishop ranks fourth in the league in goals against average, eleventh in save percentage, and tied for eighth in wins. Though the wins category took a hit early in the season due to the rest of his team not playing well, this is still a ding on the Denver, Colorado native’s resume.
Over the next 27 games, Bishop will earn the start in about 22 of those games, not accounting for possible injury. This is, of course, also not taking into account the possibility of the Lightning securing the number one spot in the Atlantic Division and Bishop is given time off to rest before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. If 22 is the number, Bishop would have to win about 15 of those games, giving him a solid 37 wins on the season and one more than Tuukka Rask had during the 2013-14 season.
Standing at a goals against average of 2.09, Bishop is currently leading the group that he probably will end up competing with for the trophy at the end of the season. If Bishop can keep his GAA number down around this number, it will certainly help his case going forward. The mark would only be 0.02 points higher than Rask’s mark two years ago.
The last category to take into account is save percentage, where Bishop currently is at a huge disadvantage. Currently, Holtby, Crawford, and Luongo are above Bishop in this category, with Crawford leading the group with a mark of .930. If Bishop wants to put himself ahead of these great puckstoppers, he is going to need a great effort to end the season, ending with a mark of at least .928 or higher. However, a goaltender hasn’t won the Vezina Trophy with a SV% under .930 since Ryan Miller did it back during the 2009-10 season with a .929 SV%.
Continue to fight his way to the top
Right now, I would put Bishop third in the Vezina Trophy race, right behind Holtby and Luongo. However, there is no doubt Bishop has every opportunity to fight his way to the top of the rankings. It is going to take a fantastic second half, both by he and his team, in order for Bishop to take home his first ever Vezina Trophy.
However, it may also take some poor play by his competitors as well. At this point, if Holtby and/or Luongo continue to lead their team’s to division titles and in Holtby’s case, the top spot in the Eastern Conference, then they should get the nod over the Lightning goaltender. It would take a poor second half from both Holtby and Luongo, plus a fantastic second half from Bishop, in order for the 6’7 All-Star puck stopper to win some hardware in Vegas this summer.