The Canadiens host the Senators on Wednesday and will get their first look at big Ben Bishop. the 6-foot-7 Sens rookie goalie — the biggest netminder to ever play in the NHL — who apparently will start for Ottawa.
Acquired from the Blues at the trade deadline, Bishop has started the last three games with Number 1 goalie Craig Anderson not yet ready to practice with the club after slicing his finger in a kitchen accident two weeks ago. Bishop has won two of those games (beating the Lightning and Rangers), lost the post-game skills competition in the third last Saturday to Buffalo, and has looked good enough to continue getting the call from coach Paul MacLean.
While Bishop is a newcomer to most, I confess to having seen the St. Louis native play a number of times in the U.S. junior North American Hockey League (where I worked during the NHL lockout) for the Texas Tornados in 2004-05. Highly agile and surprisingly smooth for such a big teenager, he led the Tornado to the league championship and was drafted by his hometown Blues that June after being selected to the NAHL All-Rookie team.
He went on to star at the University of Maine for three seasons, twice backstopping them to the NCAA Frozen Four. He made his NHL debut in 2008, But he largely played for the Blues AHL team (in more ways than one) except for a seven-game run last season when Jaroslav Halak was injured with a bruised hand. Bishop got his first shutout in his fifth NHL game just over a year ago against the Oilers.
This season, he was penciled in to be Halak’s backup, but Brian Elliott’s excellent training camp changed the Blues’ plans and Bishop was returned to the AHL. Just prior to his trade, he was leading the league in shutouts (6), save percentage (.926) and victories (26) and was tied for first in GAA (2.25) while playing for the Blues farm team in Peoria. He was MVP of the AHL 2012 All-Star Game.
Asked on Tuesday if he’d be ready for the Bell Centre crowd, Bishop said (video), “I heard it’s like playing in a soccer stadium: They’re hootin’ and hollerin’ the whole game. It should be a lot of fun. It will kind of take you back to your college days when you get screamed at the whole game, so it should be fun.”
Not only will this be a big game for big Bishop, it is also big for his new teammates. With the Bruins losing to the Lightning on Tuesday, Ottawa has a chance to tie Boston with 83 points atop the Northeast Division (although after Wednesday, the Sens will have played two more games than the Bruins). So you can expect them to be well motivated.
The coach, however, is not getting his young team get too far ahead of itself. “You want to peak at the right time,” MacLean said Tuesday (video). “We want to finish the season first and we to get to the 82nd game and see where we are. If we’re in the right spot, we feel we’ll be playing fine.”
One guy continuing to play just fine for Ottawa is Erik Karlsson, who is getting serious consideration for the Norris Trophy. He scored twice against Buffalo and now has 10 goals and 11 assists in his last 13 games, leading all NHL blueliners in goals (18) and assists (51) and is well ahead of runners-up Brian Campbell and Dennis Wideman in points (69 to 44).
This is the first of back-to-back games against the Senators, who rode the train from Ottawa on Tuesday sporting fedoras, just like Blake Geoffrion’s grandfather and great-grandfather probably did back in the day. The Habs visit the Senators on Friday night.
Here’s how the Sens should line up for Wednesday’s game:
Colin Grenning, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek
Rob Klinkhammer, Kyle Turris, Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno, Jim O’Brien, Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins, Zack Smith, Erik Condra
Filip Kuba-Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen-Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips-Matt Gilroy