Jeremy Swayman is answering Bruins goalie question

Boston Bruins Jeremy Swayman
Steve Babineau, Getty Images

The Boston Bruins entered the 2021-22 season with a couple of fairly significant questions on their roster.

They had to find a solution for their second-line center spot following David Krejci’s decision to return home to the Czech Republic to play in front of his family. That is still very much a work in progress and might need some extra attention before the NHL trade deadline.

They also had to figure out how to handle their goalie situation given the uncertainty surrounding Tuukka Rask, when he would return, and if he would return. (He ultimately briefly returned in the middle of the season, and then retired.)

That position no longer seems to be a question thanks to the emergence of rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman.

He was sensational in the Bruins’ 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night, helping the Bruins stay hot as they solidify their playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. For the season he has a 14-7-3 record in his 25 appearances to go with a .930 save percentage that is not only at the top of the rookie goalie class, but also one of the best marks in the entire league. He is picking up right where he left off following his brief debut at the end of the 2020-21 season when he posted a .945 save percentage in his first 10 appearances.

He has been especially dominant in his appearances since the start of January, going 7-2-1 with a .947 percentage and two shutouts.

For most of the season the Bruins have been splitting the playing time in goal between Swayman and Linus Ullmark, but Swayman is really starting to to make his case to be the primary goalie given the trajectory of both player. While Swayman’s performance has been getting stronger as the season progresses, Ullmark’s individual numbers have taken a significant dip, owning a sub-.900 save percentage since the start of January, and only .889 since the start of February. It is Swayman that has carried them over the past month and helped them become one of the hottest teams in the league.

Swayman’s emergence, as well as his ability to maintain a high level of play, would be a significant development for a Bruins team that has kind of snuck under the radar this season.

They are looking like a Wild Card team as there is still a decent gap between them and the top-three teams in the Atlantic Division, but there is a lot about them that is going to make them a tough out in the playoffs.

The fantastic core of elite players in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Charlie McAvoy is still there playing at their normal high levels. They are also starting to find some of that secondary scoring that has been lacking, and you have to think a trade deadline acquisition is on the horizon. Boston is also as good as it has ever been defensively as a team. It’s 5-on-5 defensive metrics are all among the best in the league. In terms of limiting shot attempts, shots on goal, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals the Bruins are first or second in literally every category. With Bergeron looking like a runaway favorite for another Selke Trophy and McAvoy leading the blue line they can still shut down any team in the league.

The key is getting enough goaltending to bring it all together.

That has been an adventure at times this season with Ullmark’s inconsistency and recent struggles, as well as Rask calling it a career.

Swayman, though, is making a pretty strong argument that he is capable of providing that level of play. It is expecting too much to expect him to maintain a .930-.940 mark over the long haul, but the Bruins do not really need that, either. With their top line talent and defensive play they just need consistency and somebody that can mostly avoid losing them games. Based on everything we have seen from him in his brief NHL experience he has been exactly that. If he can continue that the Bruins will not only be a team looking to keep its Stanley Cup window open, it will be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

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    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.