Asked to list worst-case scenarios ahead of the end of the regular season and with the post-season on the horizon, Dallas Stars fans would have named a few. Losing Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn or Alexander Radulov wouldn’t be ideal. The Stars seeing one of their top-three blueliners sidelined, be it John Klingberg, Esa Lindell or Miro Heiskanen, would sting, too. But the one thing Stars fans would have agreed on is that the last thing anyone wanted was Ben Bishop to fall injured.
That sound you hear is the collective gulp of a fan base.
Wednesday night in Calgary, with the Stars leading the Flames 1-0, the worst-case scenario reared its ugly head. Midway through the second frame, Bishop was shuffling through his crease when – steel yourselves for the scariest words in sports-related ailments – he suffered a non-contact injury. No one bumped him, no one crashed his crease and he wasn’t caught at the bottom of a five-player pile-up. Bishop simply tweaked something and was forced to exit. And here’s what we know: after leaving Wednesday’s game, Bishop won’t be suiting up Thursday night. The Stars have called up third-stringer Landon Bow for the second half of the Alberta back-to-back against the Edmonton Oilers.
It’s what we don’t know that’s all the more worrisome, though, and that’s the timeline for Bishop’s return. The prognosis following Wednesday’s outing was that Bishop is sidelined day-to-day. With the nature of the ailment unknown, however, that could mean the remainder of the road trip, which wraps up Saturday when the Stars square off against the Vancouver Canucks, or it could mean longer. It’s indefinite. And why that’s so concerning is that it’s not as though this is the first time Bishop has suffered this type of injury.
A quick look at Bishop’s injury history tells you all you need to know about his battle with the dreaded lower-body injury. Dating back to the 2011-12 season, Bishop has missed nearly 50 games with lower-body ailments and the number of times he’s hit the injured list with lower-body injuries reaches into the double digits. Worse yet, it was just two weeks ago that Bishop pulled himself from a game against the Minnesota Wild as a precaution, and he proceeded to spend the next two games watching from the sidelines.
It should go without saying why the potential for Bishop to be out anything other than short-term is panic-inducing in Dallas, too. For those who haven’t been paying attention, the Cole’s Notes version is that Bishop has been among the best goaltenders in the NHL this season and a bonafide candidate to win the Vezina Trophy this season. On base statistics alone, Bishop leads the conversation with his .933 save percentage and 2.03 goals-against average the best marks among netminders with 40 games played, and his case is further supported by underling numbers. For instance, Bishop’s .936 SP at 5-on-5 is the best mark of any goaltender with 2,000 minutes played. Likewise, his 1.90 GAA is tops among the same group of 23 goaltenders. He also has the highest goals-saved above average at 17.8, and his high-danger save percentage, a remarkable .874, is yet another feather in his cap.
Suffice it to say that Bishop has been outstanding, a game-saver and game-stealer in Dallas throughout the campaign, and the prospect of entering the post-season without him patrolling the blue paint is troubling. However, it might not be as disastrous as one might think, and for that the Stars can thank Anton Khudobin.
While Bishop has earned well-warranted praise for his play between the pipes, Khudobin’s performance this season has been almost every bit as stellar without anywhere near the same fanfare. In fact, by many of the same measures, Khudobin has been in the same league as his crease counterpart.
First, the base statistics, where Khudobin has stood out when measured against goaltenders with a similar workload. Starting 33 games and appearing in 37 this season, Khudobin has posted a .924 SP and 2.53 GAA, totals which rank fifth and 12th, respectively, among keepers with 30 or more appearances this season. And digging into the same underlying numbers in which Bishop has excelled, Khudobin stacks up well. Among the 37 goaltenders with 1,500 minutes played at 5-on-5, his .937 SP is tied for tops in the league, his 2.00 GAA is tied for seventh and his 14.5 GSAA is bested only by Bishop and New York Islanders split-starter Thomas Greiss. Additionally, Khudobin has been solid – though slightly less so than Bishop – against high-danger chances, posting an .854 SP. Only six goaltenders have been better at five-a-side.
The Stars should have increased faith that Khudobin can shoulder the load should Bishop be out beyond the end of the regular season, too, given their backup’s workload hasn’t been easier by any measure. On per-60-minute measures at 5-on-5, Khudobin has faced more shots against than Bishop (31.5-29.9) and has in turn been forced to make more saves than Bishop (29.5-28). There’s only a marginal difference in high-danger shots against and saves, as well, as Bishop’s 7.9 and 6.9 per 60 minutes are a hair more than Khudobin’s 7.6 and 6.5, respectively. Truly, the Stars feature a one-two punch that is comparable to, and only slightly less proficient than, the Islanders’ league-best tandem of Greiss and Robin Lehner.
Does that mean Dallas wouldn’t prefer to have Bishop between the pipes as they look to secure a post-season berth, or that they wouldn’t love to have their No. 1 in net come the beginning of the post-season? Not at all. But an out-and-out disaster this is not. Khudobin has shown he can keep the Stars in games, just as he did by stopping 13 of 14 against a top-flight Calgary club on Wednesday to secure two crucial points for Dallas. And if he’s the starter down the stretch and into the post-season, the Stars should still be in more than capable hands.