30 in 15: Lightning short on certainty, not net potential

Monday, 09.16.2013 / 1:55 PM
Lonnie Herman  - NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are short on certainty at the goaltending position, but they aren't lacking in size.

Anders Lindback, who stands at 6-foot-6 and Ben Bishop, who is 6-foot-7, are likely to open the 2013-14 season with the goaltending duties split between them, and Lightning coach Jon Cooper is confident that his plan in his first full season in charge to divide the workload will produce the results the club needs.

"In the grand scope of things, do we have two goalies who have a ton of NHL experience?" Cooper said. "No, we don't. Do we have two capable NHL goalies? Yes, we do."

There's no question someone with a load of potential will be in the crease for Tampa Bay, no matter which goaltender gets the call. But for a team which landed in the bottom five in the NHL for goals allowed last season, the emphasis is on that potential to be realized quickly.

So far, that has not been the case.

Each of the two has had opportunities to seize a No. 1 job in the past, but each time events conspired to bring them up short.

When Lindback arrived in Tampa Bay via trade prior to the 2012-13 season, the expectation was his stint as the understudy to Pekka Rinne in Nashville had prepared him to take over the goaltending duties and, at 25 years old, keep claim to it for the foreseeable future. For a club that had deployed 14 different netminders since the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin after the 2003-04 season, the stability that Lindback promised was a welcome relief.

But it didn't work out the way they hoped. Lindback's play was inconsistent and he missed 14 games between March 20 and April 21 with an ankle injury.

"Of course last season was disappointing," Lindback said." Looking back it wasn't what I wanted. I know I can do way better. Its times you go through like that that are great experiences."

Part of the problem, Lindback said, was that "too often I found myself too much everywhere." He needed to calm down and let his size work for him. But in the end, it was a combination of things that derailed his season.

"I don't think you can blame any one thing for last year," Lindback said." Maybe I just wasn't good enough at the times I should have been. That's my job to be good enough. I really just look back at it as an experience and I'm going to take it with me and look forward."

While Lindback was nursing his injured ankle, general manager Steve Yzerman made another goaltending move, sending rookie forward Cory Conacher to the Ottawa Senators for Bishop.

"Of course I was somewhat discouraged when they brought in Bishop, but every year that is how it is going to be," Lindback said. "Every year there are new kids to press me. You are never going to have a safe spot on your team; no one has. It's a part of the game."

Bishop had a chance to claim the top spot on the Ottawa depth chart when Craig Anderson was hurt, but the Senators traded him to Tampa Bay and chose to move forward with Robin Lehner as the guy behind Anderson. Bishop appeared in nine games for the Lightning, going 3-4-1 with a 2.99 goals-against average while the team fell short of the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years.

Following the season, Bishop was selected to play for the United States in the IIHF World Championship. As the only NHL-experienced netminder on the roster, Bishop began the tournament as the team's starting goaltender, but eventually top prospect John Gibson played his way into the role. The team eventually came home with a bronze medal.

"The United States team was a great experience," Bishop said. "I think I played well. We played against Slovakia [in the preliminary round] and I gave up the puck behind the net. I tried to play the puck. Then another goal in the first two minutes kind of put us behind the 8-ball. It was a great learning experience. Nothing bad. I only took away good things from that."

So while the Lightning wait for either of their two netminders to step up and fulfill their potential, the initial plan calls for goaltender-by-committee.

"It will resolve itself over time," Cooper said. "Do we have No. 1 and a No. 2? Well, I don't think you can say that. And then people will point fingers and say, 'oh well, whoever gets the opening day start must be the starting goalie,' well, he's just starting that night. I think it will separate itself at some point. I've been through this situation before in the AHL and we won a Calder Cup splitting goaltenders. So, I think it can be healthy."

And on the ice, the competition is as friendly as it can be.

"Ben is a great goalie so it will be a good competition here," Lindback said. "I think it's good for me and him to push each other. I can't demand anything. I only can try to prove myself that I'm worth the ice time and worth the chance to help the team win.

"I never had a time I didn't have to compete for a job. Growing up, I always had it. Obviously sometimes it will be harder but you always have competition. If you're not doing what you should do there is always someone knocking on the door. That's what everyone in this game lives with every day. I want to play and I want to win games and win the Stanley Cup. That's why I'm playing hockey."

For his part, Bishop agrees that the two goalies have to settle it out on the ice.

"Every year when you go in you're competing," Bishop said. "It doesn't matter if you're trying to take someone's job or they are trying to take your job. No matter where you are or how old you are, it is always going to be like that. It's no different. You just have to worry about yourself and when you get a chance to play, play well."

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