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Pace Maker: Ben Bishop sets the tone for the Stars

Bishop’s days of getting 60-plus starts are surely behind him, but that’s OK. He’ll take quality over quantity

Life with a toddler is easier when everything is exactly where you expect it to be. Many first-time parents dread a night away from the familiar confines of home for just that reason. It was what led Stars goaltender Ben Bishop to spend most of the summer in Dallas with his wife, Andrea, and their 15-month-old son, Ben Bishop IV. “It’s kind of easy with
everything in place in your own house,” Bishop said. “We have been here for most of the summer.”

Having everything in place is also a recipe for on-ice success for the 32-year-old Bishop, who is coming off a season in which he was a Vezina Trophy finalist and took his club to seven games in the second round against the eventual Stanley Cup-champion St. Louis Blues.

The organization and predictability of the Stars’ system under first-year NHL coach Jim Montgomery helped Bishop elevate his game. “Under (former coach Ken Hitchcock), you were facing a lot of shots, and there were two or three 2-on-1s and Grade A chances a night,” Bishop said. “If you didn’t stop those, it’s a tough night for you. Under Monty’s system, we do a good job of eliminating the odd-man rushes, and you just make the saves you need to make.”

Bishop may deflect praise to the system, but the system alone did not earn him career-best numbers (1.98 goals-against average, .934 save percentage). Again demonstrating the value of situational comfort, Bishop said he felt like he got in a “good groove” during his second season in Dallas. “You can’t really pick one thing (that went right),” he said. “You’re working on everything all season. (Goalie coach) Jeff Reese and I have a good relationship, and we were able to plug the leaks when there was one and work on things to get better.”

One thing that will continue to be true is the viciousness of the Central Division. “You have to scratch and claw for every point you can get in this division,” Bishop said. As a goalie, though, he views the tightness of the division as an asset. “Last season was just one of those years where most of the games we were in seemed like they were dogfights. It makes you stay in it as a goalie. Every game you know that you’ve got to play well, and I don’t think it will be any different this year.”

Every night being a “dogfight” made it especially tough for Bishop to lose so many starts down the stretch to a nagging groin injury. With points on the line, Bishop didn’t let the injury fully heal and re-aggravated it twice in the final portion of the regular season. “It was one of those things where if I had let it heal up the first time it probably wouldn’t have been an issue after that,” he said.

Bishop waves off any concern about re-injuring his groin after incorporating some off-season workouts specifically designed to keep him limber in 2019-20. That being said, Bishop’s days of getting 60-plus starts as he did with Tampa Bay may indeed be behind him, putting more pressure on both his own starts and the Stars’ backup role in general. His time on the sidelines held him to just 46 appearances last year. “I don’t think there really is a right number,” said Bishop. “When you’re feeling good and playing well, you want to play 70. Obviously, you get beaten down and a little tired and have to learn when to back off. That’s more how you’re feeling in the season and how your body is doing. It’s hard to make that call before the season starts.”

His limited body of work, despite stellar stats, may be the thing that keeps him from winning the Vezina, but that’s not something about which he’s concerned. Bishop was twice a Vezina finalist with the Lightning, and he’s one of only three goalies, along with Curtis Joseph and Roberto Luongo, to be a three-time finalist and not win. “If the numbers add up at the end of the season and you’re up for it, that’s a great honor,” Bishop said. “It’s never been a goal of mine at the beginning of the season to try to win the Vezina. I have the same goal every summer, and that’s to win the first game and go from there.”

The Stars’ first two contests will be a good measuring stick for the team, facing Cup finalists Boston and St. Louis in Games 1 and 2. “We’ll be ready for those two, and it will be a good test to see where we are to start the season,” Bishop said. “No better way to start.”

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