The right move for Big Ben

It has been almost four weeks since the Ottawa Senators have won two games in a row.

The right move for Big Ben
Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save against the Minnesota Wild at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on October 17, 2013 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

TAMPA, Florida — It has been almost four weeks since the Ottawa Senators have won two games in a row.

For them to accomplish that feat here Thursday, there’s the not so small matter of finding a way to defeat the 6-7 gentle giant in the Tampa Bay Lightning net.

They know Ben Bishop well enough, of course. Bishop was an instrumental part of the three-headed monster in the Senators’ net last season, allowing the team to thrive despite potentially devastating long-term injuries to Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson, among others.

Bishop hasn’t looked back since being traded to the Lightning for Cory Conacher at the trade deadline last April, seizing the opportunity to become a No. 1 goaltender for the first time in his career.

He boasts a record of 14-5-1, with a 2.03 goals against average and .932 save percentage, putting him in the league’s top 10 in every significant netminding category. Even with the Lightning in an offensive slump, shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since November of 2003, Bishop is red-hot, having stopped 124 of 128 shots over the past four games.

As impressive as the numbers are, Bishop says he doesn’t feel all that different, considering all of the experience he received while with Ottawa.

“I really liked the way the first year (2011-12) went in Ottawa,” he said following the Lightning’s late afternoon practice Wednesday. “That was a great experience, and last year I felt like I was getting better and better, and this year it kind of snowballed and it got better and better again.”

The idea of being a top netminder doesn’t intimidate him. Again, thanks to his background in Ottawa.

“It doesn’t feel all that different than in Ottawa because (Anderson) got hurt twice when I was there. I got to play seven or eight games in a row and then he got hurt again (last season) and it was the same role, slightly (sharing the net with Lehner).”

Looking back, Bishop says there’s no question the internal battle with Anderson and Lehner pushed him to be at his best at all times.

“Robin and I made each other better, maybe even Andy too,” he said. “Nobody wanted to drop the ball and lose any positioning we had.”

Now, he’s anxious to show his stuff against so many of his good old friends in Ottawa for the second time — Bishop defeated the Senators 3-2 one week after the trade — getting the Lightning back on track.

Given the numbers, the Lightning appear to have clearly won the trade. Conacher hasn’t scored in 22 games and only has two goals and three assists in 28 contests this season.

Senators general manager Bryan Murray, however, insists he would do it all over again, saying the deal was made “for the right reasons,” in that he provided Bishop with an opportunity he wouldn’t have received in Ottawa.

It’s no secret that Anderson has been at times inconsistent, at times shaky, this season, but if you rewind the clock to the time of the deal, he had the best numbers of any goaltender in the league. Lehner, meanwhile, was and is widely regarded as one of the best young netminders in the league and the guy who should one day inherit the top job. There was simply no room for Bishop.

According to Murray, the second-best offer available was a late second round pick.

He had asked the Edmonton Oilers for their early second round choice, but the Oilers wanted to trade a “bad contract” as part of the any deal. It has been reported that Ryan Jones, a checking forward, was part of the package Edmonton offered the Senators.

“I could have taken a pick from another team for (Bishop), but we decided to take Cory, a scrappy, smaller guy who we know will work hard for us every night,” Murray said Wednesday.

Murray would prefer that Conacher have bigger offensive numbers, but says part of that has to do with the fact that Conacher’s ice time has been limited by playing behind many other wingers.

“Where we’ll be with him in the future, I don’t know, but I know he’s a better player than he has had a chance to show here,” said Murray. “Quite often it’s about what who you get to play with and what role you get on a given team. I would say that 10-15 per cent of the players that get moved to a new team and get a different role become effective players.”

If Murray had chosen not to deal Bishop at the deadline, Bishop would have become a free agent in the summer, gone for nothing.

While Bishop is near the top of the league now, both Anderson and Lehner are full of praise for the Lightning goaltender.

Lehner says his friendship continues. He regularly texts his old netmate.

“We pushed each other,” Lehner said. “Every goalie pushes each other. (Anderson) and I push each other. We had a good relationship. It was unfortunate there were only two spots and Craig was playing unbelievable. We’re all friends.

“A lot of goalies can’t handle that, but Bish and I put it out there on the ice and that’s it. I like Bish as a person. Of course, we respect each other.”

On Wednesday, Senators coach Paul MacLean appeared to be leaning toward starting Anderson against Tampa, but a final decision won’t be made until Thursday morning. MacLean is banking on facing Bishop.

“It’s a great credit to him,” MacLean said of Bishop’s numbers. “He is fine young man and really was professional when we had him. No, I’m not surprised that he has had success.”

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

What do you think? Leave a comment