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.