November 28, 2017 | 11:13am ET
BY Hannah Spraker, The Fourth Period

99 PROBLEMS, AND BISH IS JUST ONE

 
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ANAHEIM, CA -- American Thanksgiving just passed and you know what that means; the holiday season is upon us (I hope you enjoyed those awkward family conversations) and it’s time to get ready for a whole lot more hockey talk. 

It’s the time of the year when we typically make predictions of where teams will land in the standings, and we start to dive into who will be buyers and sellers as we inch closer to the trade deadline. 

That being said, it’s time to take a look at Ben Bishop and the Dallas Stars. 

This season has just been weird across the board. Looking at the standings, right now, gives me a good laugh at my predictions coming into this season. I had Dallas taking the Central and Ken Hitchcock winning the Jack Adams. While it’s still early, and if Vegas can begin the season undefeated, then certainly anything can happen, but Dallas will not be in the discussion if they continue this inconsistency. 

The Stars made moves in the off-season that directly addressed their struggles from previous seasons. They went out and got a stellar bench boss in Hitchcock, picked up Bishop between the pipes, as well as Marc Methot to add more structure to the blueline, and Martin Hanzal for more depth down the middle. So all should be well, right? Well, maybe on paper. 

No doubt the Stars have improved their defense with a top pairing that works extremely well for them and a coach who puts a great amount of emphasis on defense. John Klingberg and Esa Lindell have been an absolute force for this team thus far, and are now one of the best defensive pairings in the league, but now the story has changed to offensive woes for this team. 

There are some things to factor in here. Anytime you bring in a new head coach, there is a learning curve and an adjustment period to a different style of hockey. Hitchcock loves that gritty, physical style and this team is still struggling to find their identity with his system. In recent years, offense has been this teams strong point, with weak defense, this season so far- it has flip flopped, at least for guys who’s names aren’t Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov.

Hitchcock has split up Seguin and Benn in attempt to find more scoring depth from top to bottom. Most recently, Seguin has been playing on the second line, centering Mattias Janmark and Jason Spezza, while Benn centers Devin Shore and Radulov. Hitchcock has been criticized by the fanbase for this move, but it’s a smart one. Dallas was a one line team, all of the production was coming from that top line, much of it padded by the power play, and in this league, that just doesn’t work out in the long run and in a run for the cup, you need to be able to roll four lines that can do damage. 

Yet another team that has been bitten with the injury bug, Hanzal has missed a handful of games with injury, Brett Ritchie was out for a bit, and now Methot will be out over a month after undergoing an arthroscopic surgery on his knee. It is hard to really gauge where a team is at and project where they will be when they are stricken with injuries. Although, there comes a point when you just have to roll with the punches, and now is the time when teams needs to string together some wins to stay competitive. 

As we all know, this league is tough, and with so much parity, it is going to be a tight race in most divisions. In terms of the Central Division, St. Louis is just running away with it, and those guys show no signs of slowing down, so I would formally like to revoke my prediction there, but when everything is broken down, are the Dallas Stars as bad as everyone is making them out to be? 

The key word when it comes to this hockey club is inconsistent. For a team that was expected by many to be leading the Central, they are extremely hot and cold, but why? 

There are many factors at play here: they need to be putting the puck in the net at even strength, the performance of the whole team on the road, etc., but like many do when a team struggles, fingers tend to point to the goaltending and some get a little trigger happy with hitting the panic button. 

Bishop was signed to the Stars to bring consistency and stability in between the pipes, which is something Dallas has lacked for quite sometime; but is he doing what he was brought in to do? 

What’s interesting is when you look at his stats, his home record is great. He’s put up a .942 save percentage at home, averaging 1.61 goals against. What’s killing him is his road record and his play when facing teams in his own division. Basically, take his home record and flip it on its head, his numbers are atrocious and he looks like a different guy in net. 

To add insult to injury, it’s not like he is giving up 4 or 5 goals on 50 shots, try more like 28 shots. Furthermore, the guy is 6-foot-7, all he has to do is move laterally. Against any other division, he is still pretty decent, but for some reason he and the whole team cannot seem to find that consistency they desperately need to be competitive.

Will the real Ben Bishop please stand up!

Is the Stars’ net cursed? Maybe Antti Niemi and Bishop can start a support group. In all seriousness, Bishop is a two-time Vezina finalist, one wouldn’t think he would be this low on the totem pole at this point in the season. He’s seeing one of the lowest averages of shots per game in the league, the penalty kill solid, so what’s the deal? Barely over a .900 save percentage, at first glance Bishop is not the same guy we knew in Tampa Bay, which begs the question; at 31 is Bish snowballing downhill? How much can we fault him?

Bishop has taken full ownership for his lackluster performance in given games, acknowledging that from the net out, they need to buckle down, and be better. That being said, even though the road record is embarrassing, and that game against his former team in Tampa Bay was cringe-worthy (6-1 loss), we are still seeing the old Bishop a decent amount of the time.

In most of these road losses, it’s not all Bishop’s fault. Yes, he’s let in some soft goals, but his teammates have acknowledged that they hung him out to dry on occasion and the whole team has been flat. It is easy to point the finger to the goaltender when teams fall short, we saw the same thing with Frederick Andersen’s first season with Toronto, but you have credit the whole team for the road record. 

He is a huge asset for this team and I think we can expect to see more and more of the old Bish down the line. While his road record sucks, (let’s call a spade a spade), his home record is great and what stands out to me about Bishop is his ability to play the puck and be really smart about it. Having a goaltender who can play the puck well, not only creates breakaway chances every now and then, but it also forces the opposing team to alter the way that they forecheck and changes the dynamic of the game.

What I see with Bishop this season is what I have always said about Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson, until recently; he’s a great goaltender, and no doubt playoff caliber, but inconsistency is cause for concern. Yes, I eat my words with Gibson, for now, he still needs to prove he can stay healthy, but in terms of Bishop, I think that he is exactly the guy this team needs. Do I think he will win a Vezina? I doubt it, but I don’t think he’s snowballing downhill just yet.

Bishop has come in and done what they brought him in to do, and management has been vocal about how pleased they are with him. He’s a leader on the ice as well as in the locker room. He is not a two-time Vezina finalist for nothing, and the fact that he has a gnarly home record shows he’s more than capable, but the team as a whole needs to figure out how to break this awful road record and be solid night in and night out. 

When Bish and the Stars are on home ice at American Airlines Center, the whole team seems to play with a different mindset. These guys have to do something to get some 5 on 5 scoring, more production from their depth players, and Bishop has to become a brick wall on the road like he has been at home if they want to climb the standings. They aren’t that far from a playoff spot, but they need to be able to be competitive in their own division. It can be done, but they can’t keep riding this rollercoaster. 

Now that we’re more than 20 games into the season, it’s go-time. Time to see what this team can do. No doubt on paper, they have everything they need -- but the question is, can they be consistent, can they roll four lines that score, and can Bishop play lights out and bail his team out when he has to? 

Time will tell, but I think we will start to see more of the Bishop everyone knows and loves. Maybe it was just an adjustment period, maybe a team identity crisis, maybe it’s all mental right now... it’s a mystery. Whatever the case, if you tell me that Bishop is the sole reason this team is where they are after American Thanksgiving... Bish please!

 
 
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Hannah Spraker is a Columnist and the Anaheim Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
Follow her on Twitter.

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