Ben Bishop has been good for the Tampa Bay Lightning this year. Really good. So good, in fact, he's playing himself into consideration for the U.S. Olympic Team according to U.S. general manager David Poile.
From the Tampa Bay Times:
"Absolutely," Predators and U.S. team general manager Dave Poile said. "He's played terrific. He's definitely on our radar."
Poile said that for his evaluations, a player's recent performance is more important than anything done previously for USA Hockey.
"Especially for goalies, we need guys who are playing well this year," Poile said. "Certainly that favors somebody like Ben with how he's playing."
That's good news for Bishop as his .928 save percentage is currently best among American starting goaltenders in the NHL so far this year. The next closest is Sabres netminder Ryan Miller with a .919 mark.
Bishop doesn't have a lot of international experience and the little that he does have didn't go particularly well for him.
He started last year's IIHF World Championship as Team USA's No. 1 goalie. However, he struggled and eventually was unseated by Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson, who helped backstop the U.S. to the bronze medal, its first medal in the event since 2004.
In that tournament, Bishop posted a .876 save percentage and 2.38 goals-against average with a 3-2 record.
Of all the players that have to adjust to the wider ice surface, the goalies may have the toughest transition. The angles are a little different and it's easy to get lost out there a bit. That may have been what happened to Bishop who never really seemed overly sharp for Team USA in Finland at the World Championship.
Even though Poile will put more weight on how Bishop is doing now, the last World Championship should be at least a reference point. Also, of the six goaltenders invited to the U.S. Olympic orientation camp, Bishop was not one of them. Gibson was.
That said, Bishop really has been fantastic in helping the Lightning to an 11-4-0 start, good for first in the Atlantic Division. So he's not just playing well, he's contributing majorly to the success of a team in contention. That matters.
His competition for a roster spot is interesting. Miller is starting to look good for the starter's role based on the season he's had in Buffalo. He also has the benefit of being the top goalie at the 2010 Olympics for Team USA. Meanwhile, Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Cory Schneider and Jonathan Quick have been adequate, but not earth-shattering. That cracks the door open a little bit for Bishop.
At 6-foot-7, 214 pounds, Bishop is the NHL's tallest goalie. Since Team USA can bring three netminders, he really does have an honest shot with the way he's playing. Poile has maintained from Day 1 that the goaltenders are going to be judged primarily on how they're playing at the time.
If Bishop can keep this up, he makes the goaltending decision that much tougher for the U.S. staff, which isn't a bad problem to have.