If you’ve been watching the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, you’ve probably noticed that for the majority of the games played, the starting goaltender has been Anton Khudobin, not Ben Bishop.
With the new NHL injury policies implemented by player privacy when it comes to COVID, nothing has been able to be reported about his condition other than an ambiguous label each night of “Ben Bishop is unfit to play.”
Before game 5 against the Colorado Avalanche on 8/31, the last time Stars fans saw Bishop play was during game 2 against the Calgary Flames on 8/13
Taking a look at Bishop’s playoff stats, you can see how drastically different this playoffs have been for him. He only played in three games, one round-robin game, and two playoff games, and the performances in each were lackluster at best. Comparing that to last season when he had a .933 SV% over his 13 playoff starts. So while Stars fans have no idea what is going on with him, it’s safe to assume that the injury is likely fairly serious. So why did Bowness give him the start in game 5?
According to the interim head coach, Rick Bowness, starting Bishop was based on information that they have that we as fans do not. He said that at the time, starting Bishop was the best possible option considering it was a back-to-back, and Oettinger has no NHL experience. That’s hard to argue with when fans don’t have inside information, but it doesn’t make the eventual outcome of 4 goals in the first ten minutes of the game any less frustrating.
The strange thing among fans is that the criticism of Bishop is far louder than support for him, despite his history as a goalie.
It’s easy to understand in hindsight why starting him in game 5 was a mistake, but when you consider that those of us on the outside don’t know what the injury is, don’t know how Bishop was personally feeling, and you couple that with how poor the entire team performed in those first ten minutes where four goals were let in, it’s strange that Bishop is the one taking the sole blame.
In post-game interviews, Stars forward Andrew Cogliano commented that:
“Bish will take the blame, he’ll put it on himself, but let’s be honest: We were atrocious in the first 10 minutes. It was 5-0 with four minutes left in the period. This has nothing to do with our goalies. We’re wasting our time if we’re talking about our goalies. We have the luxury of having these two, and we let him down.”
The point being made here clear, that if Khudobin was in net, the outcome may not have been different at all. That comment aside, the problem here isn’t with the decision to start Bishop if he felt at the time he was ready, the problem is that from an outside perspective as fans, it seemed irresponsible that in an elimination game where the Stars had the potential to advance, Bowness went with a goalie who hadn’t played in two weeks.
All arguments aside about what should or should not have happened in Game 5, what’s important for Stars fans to remember is that Ben Bishop is still a great goalie. He was a Vezina finalist last season, he carried the team through the playoffs that year and still had impressive stats this season. He was ranked number 4 out of the 24 starting goalies among all teams that qualified for the playoffs this year, coming in behind Darcy Kuemper, Connor Hellebuyck, and Tuuka Rask. If not for having the duo of Bishop and Khudobin this season, it’s not a far stretch to assume that maybe the Stars wouldn’t be in the playoffs at all.
With his injury unknown and based on currently playoff performance, it seems likely that fans may have seen the last of Ben Bishop in net for the 2019-2020 season. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that ends up being the case. Khudobin seems to have handled the playoff pressure fairly well and resting Bishop so that he is healthy for what will likely be a condensed 2020-2021 season is probably the smartest thing that the Stars could do.
The Stars have been on the fortunate end of the goalie conundrum in the NHL for the regular season, having two great options where fans didn’t necessarily have to worry about who would start. Bishop and Khudobin have undoubtedly stolen some games when the rest of the Stars haven’t seemed to want to show up.
The problem is that this is the playoffs, and the entire team cannot rely solely on the goalie to bail them out for a game 7.
It’s already been confirmed that Khudobin will get the Game 7 start, but the entire team has to come hard, or the Stars will be going home.
Featured Image: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images