The Ottawa Senators, now the Rangers’ first round opponent, are in a fairly unique position. They have the luxury of two potential starting goaltenders rostered as they anticipate the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Only the Blues, Canucks and the Flyers fine themselves with that type of depth/starter ineptitude between the pipes. Since I have already previewed Craig Anderson, let’s take a gander at the Sens’ newest keeper, Ben Bishop. Since Anderson is incredibly streaky, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see the towering goaltender at some point before the series is over. Same criteria as always, general style, strengths, weaknesses, and how the Rangers should approach the matchup.
The first thing you will notice about Bishop, the former University of Maine standout, is that he is absolutely enormous. He stands 6’7” and 215lbs. Obviously considering his height, he is a little bit lanky, but looking at the equipment set up he has, there is very little net when being stared down by Bishop.
Aside from his hulking size, there is not much that is overly unique about the Denver, Colorado native. He plays a very standard butterfly style, with certain tweeks to accommodate his frame. By all accounts he is a strong skater, but there is the obvious concern about body control due to his height. I haven’t seen a ton of Bishop, but when Anderson went down with his hand laceration, I made sure to catch a couple of Bishop’s starts.
Surface area is clearly Bishop’s biggest (no pun intended) asset. He plays a strong positional game and has a calm and focused net presence. He moves well for his size and maintains a balanced approach. This is especially beneficial when dealing with shots through traffic. If a goalie is in the proper position, the better the chances are that the puck will hit him without having to track the puck. Bishop combines this theory with greater size than other goalies, which increases the probability of some part of his body being in the way of an incoming shot.
Although Bishop is relatively new to consistent NHL action, he has, give or take, 4 full seasons of AHL games under his belt. The Blues took their time with his development, opting in the past few years to take journeymen backups over promoting Bishop too soon. Although his numbers in the AHL are nothing to write home about, you have to take into consideration his size, combined with the fact that goalies tend to develop late, and it’s understandable he didn’t crack the Show with full control over his 6’7” frame.
His size, while his biggest strength is also his biggest weakness. As mentioned above, it takes time to grow into a frame that big, and Bishop is not a finished product. If he puts it all together, he could become a force to be reckoned with at the NHL level, but he isn’t there yet. He is probably two or three years away from his peak, and there are aspects to his game that can be exploited.
When I mentioned before that he moves well for a goalie of his size, its still relative. Most goalies in the NHL are between 6’-6’3”, many of which can move with unbelievable efficiency. Bishop, while a strong skater/lateral mover for a large goalie, still falls into the “average” or worse category when compared to the league in general. Testing his lateral movement and taking him out of the butterfly will go a long way in solving the 25 year old.
How the Rangers should approach the matchup
The Rangers tend to create offense off the forecheck and when using the breakout, tend to play a north-south type of game. This fits perfectly into their system, and unfortunately, plays right into Bishop’s strengths (as evidenced in Bishop’s 4-1 win over the Blueshirts in early March).
The Rangers need to incorporate a little more east-west, at least when set up in the offensive zone. They need to pull Bishop laterally and force him to control his body in situations where it becomes difficult. If they streak down the wing and launch shots from the perimeter, they are going to make him look very, very good.
Bishop’s inexperience can potentially be exploited as well. He would most likely be coming into the series if Anderson falters. There would be a significant amount of pressure on the kid to turn the series around, and at the professional level, he doesn’t possess that type of experience.
Chances are, absent a major collapse by Anderson, Bishop will spend the series on the bench. However, if Anderson proves my opinion from his scouting report correct, Ben Bishop could find himself thrust into a prominent role quickly.