It's no secret that staying sharp as an NHL goaltender is a difficult task. It's not uncommon for hockey fans to marvel at the 'tender who turns aside 40 or more shots in a shutout before turning around and wondering how the goalie who only faced 19 shots could give up a pair.
Being in a zone can make all the difference.
This, of course, is the trouble with being a backup. You can be thrust into the spotlight on a whim, and once you're between the pipes it doesn't matter if you're the starter, the backup or the guy who plays with his buddies every Thursday. You need to perform. What's even more difficult is being the backup to the hottest goaltender on the planet. Here you find the pickle Ben Bishop is currently in.
Bishop hasn't started for the Sens since coming out on the wrong side of a high octane 6-4 decision against the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 25. Not only that, incumbent starter Craig Anderson is coming off being named the First Star in the NHL for the month of January and is amongst league leaders in every meaningful goaltending category.
So, how do you stay sharp through the gap? The answer, it turns out, is pretty simple.
"You just practice hard in practice and try to stay sharp," Bishop said.
The flip side to this is the Sens reap all of the benefits. Any time a goaltender is forcing you to play him every night, you are in a situation the vast majority of the NHL would happily be in. For Bishop, the stretch is all about supporting his teammate and awaiting his next opportunity.
"He's the best goalie in the league right now, you just try to support him and keep him going," Bishop said. "It's fun to watch right now and, like I said, you just support him. You can't really complain when you have the best goalie in the league in front of you."