Ben Bishop is back on track and so are the Stars
You could not have possibly drawn up a worse start to the season for the Dallas Stars.
They collected just three out of a possible 18 points in their first nine games, did not win a single one of those games in regulation, their big offseason acquisition (Joe Pavelski) could not find the score sheet, their other big signing (Corey Perry) had not played due to injury, and their goaltending -- one of their biggest strengths -- had abandoned them early.
It all seemed like they were one or two losses away from either making a coaching change or having Jim Lites publicly blow another gasket after another slow start.
If nothing else it put them in an early hole that was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to crawl out of. But just a couple of weeks later, they are in the process of doing just that.
After beating Colorado on Tuesday (their second win over the Avalanche in a week) the Stars are back to .500 on the season with an 8-8-1 mark and have won seven of their past eight games.
Obviously, a lot of things have started to turn around for them during that stretch, including Pavelski starting to get hot (six points, including four goals), improved play from second-year standout Miro Heiskanen, and complementary players like Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov contributing to the offense.
But no development has meant more than the turnaround of the two goaltenders, and especially starter Ben Bishop.
The Stars’ biggest strength entering the season was always going to be the fact the top of their lineup is capable of competing with any team in the Western Conference on any given night. They have a top line that can be great, two outstanding defenders (John Klingberg and Heiskanen) and a Vezina caliber goalie (Bishop is a three-time finalist for the award). That may not be enough to win a Stanley Cup, but it is enough to give you a chance.
Bishop is probably the biggest X-factor out of that group because as a goalie he can be the ultimate game-changer and someone that can mask a lot of team flaws. He was one of the top goalies in the league a year ago and was one of the biggest keys in their second half turnaround.
He is also one of the biggest factors in their recent hot streak.
During this 7-1-0 stretch, Bishop has appeared in six of the games and allowed just eight total goals (with two of them coming in one game) with a .955 save percentage.
Combined with a couple of great games from backup Anton Khudobin, the Stars have allowed more than one goal just twice since Oct. 19. You can’t realistically expect a team to give up only one goal every game for a full season, but the play of Bishop and Khubodin has at least given the Stars a chance to stay afloat in the West while the other top players get things figured out. And you have to think they can. The trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Klingberg has combined for just five goals in the first 17 games and have a combined shooting percentage of 4 percent (five goals on 123 shots!), far below their normal career averages.
There is no way that is going to continue, because just like last season when they slumped at the start they are still way too good, and way too talented to not score more goals given the number of shots they are getting.
Klingberg is set to miss the next few weeks due to injury, and that will hurt, but with Bishop playing the way he is they should be able to get through it.
The Stars still have enough question marks to limit their potential ceiling, but they have enough impact players that their floor should be better than they showed early in the season. Right now their most important impact player has gotten it together. Once the other ones follow this season might once again become interesting in Dallas.