One of the things for which Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop is known — one of the reasons general manager Steve Yzerman acquired him last season from the Senators — is his ability to play the puck.
Notable, then, that Bishop's carelessness with the puck while playing for the United States at last month's world championship in Sweden and Finland was the exclamation point in a disappointing tournament in which Bishop lost his starting job.
To be sure the world championship, played on the larger international ice surface with teammates thrown together at the last minute, was not an ideal proving ground.
Still, Bishop, 26, being benched for 19-year-old John Gibson certainly was not what Tampa Bay wanted to see from a player it is counting on to help solve its ongoing problems in net.
Bishop declined to talk about the experience, but Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said it should be viewed as part of a maturation process.
"You can take a positive approach to every situation you go to and learn from it and benefit from it," Yzerman said. "It's good for him. He hasn't played a ton and the more things you can experience — obviously, we all hope things go well — but you can learn a lot when they don't go as well and be better for it."
It wasn't all bad for Bishop, who was 3-2-0. But his 2.83 goals-against average was mediocre and his .876 save percentage was bad. And in the final preliminary-round game — a 4-1 loss to Slovakia — Bishop's gaffes cost the United States two goals in the first 3:44.
The first came 15 seconds into the game. After Bishop stick-handled behind his goal, his pass hit a skate and deflected to Branko Radivojevic who scored into an empty net. It was 2-0 when Martin Bartek's shot from the top of a faceoff circle beat Bishop though his legs.
No surprise, then, Gibson — a Ducks prospect who was 3-1-1 in the tournament with a 1.56 goals-against average and .951 save percentage — played the final three games for the United States and beat Finland 3-2 in a shootout to win the bronze medal.
If Bishop was disturbed by the benching he didn't show it, said Lightning and United States teammate Nate Thompson.
"It's tough," Thompson said. "He had that one tough game, but before that I thought he played great. He came up with some big saves where it could have been a different outcome. John Gibson kind of ran with it, but Bish had a great attitude. He handled it great."
How Bishop handles next season will be a key to the Lightning's failure or success.
The plan is for him and Anders Lindback to share net duties; smart as Bishop (45) and Lindback (62) have just 107 games between them.
"The biggest thing for goaltenders is mental toughness and the ability to come back the next night regardless of what happened the previous night," Yzerman said. "That comes with time. Play a lot and you learn to deal with situations good or bad. Any of these experiences help a lot."
That is why Yzerman called Bishop's world championship experience, as sloppy as it was, "a good one for Ben."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]