It hasn’t been a flawless start for Boston Bruins rookie netminder Jeremy Swayman in his first full NHL season.
On the contrary, both Bruins President Cam Neely and GM Don Sweeney termed the B’s current goaltending situation merely “okay” with an unsigned Tuukka Rask working out five days a week as he mulls an NHL return in January. Swayman has battled most with rebound control as recent goals allowed to both the Flames and Rangers featured long rebounds kicked directly to opponents for some fairly easy goals allowed.
Unfortunately for Swayman, if Rask were to return to the Black and Gold it would likely mean a trip back to Providence for a young player that doesn’t require waivers. Linus Ullmark, on the other hand, has been inconsistent out of the starting gate, but has a full no-movement clause along with the $20 million guaranteed over the next four seasons.
Perhaps that’s why he chose to have the Boston skyline added to his goalie pads last week in a statement that he isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
Linus Ullmark’s new pads. The man who puts the “Hub” in the Hub of Hockey. pic.twitter.com/38embdESxi
— Kevin Paul Dupont (@GlobeKPD) November 27, 2021
Given all the factors involved, now is the time for the 22-year-old Swayman to step up, and begin playing like he did down the stretch last season, if he wants to preserve his spot on the Boston roster. Swayman did just that on Thursday night as he made a career-high 42 saves in Boston’s 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
“I felt that between my posts I wasn’t chasing pucks. It was a good week of practice with the two games I didn’t start, so I was definitely focusing in on that and it came out in the play tonight,” said Swayman, who posted a 1.50 goals against average and .945 save percentage in 10 games at the end of last season. “Guys were taking pride in the defensive zone and also in the offensive zone. I had the best seat in the house watching them work, play together and talk a lot on the ice. It was a fun game to be a part of and a great team win.
“They did a good job of funneling backs to the middle and getting tips. I tried to be aware of where the sticks were in the slot or on backdoor options.”
The Boston Bruins played an all-around solid game while missing their best player, Brad Marchand, for the second time game, so it wasn’t exactly a case of Swayman standing on his head. But there were no flaws in the execution of his confident style of goaltending and there were no juicy rebounds for the Predators to pounce all over. In stopping 42 shots, he joined Boston Bruins goalies like Bill Ranford and Tim Thomas in a pretty exclusive club.
#NHLBruins goalies with 42 or more saves in shutout:
Bill Ranford (three times)
Tim Thomas (two times)
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 3, 2021
“He was tracking pucks very well and I certainly think it was one of his better games,” said Boston Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco, serving as the head coach while Bruce Cassidy is out with COVID-19. “We certainly needed him. When they made a push he made some big saves for us. Sway was on top of it tonight.”
The wins puts Swayman at 7-4-0 with a 2.20 goals against average and .921 save percentage in 11 games and has crept into the NHL’s top-15 in terms of save percentage. It should also earn him another start on Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Boston Bruins attempt to get at least one of their goalies on a hot streak during the regular season.
A few more efforts like Thursday night from Swayman and perhaps all of the breathless chatter about Rask’s return will fade just a little bit as the Boston Bruins have their next No. 1 goaltender right under their collective noses. At the very least, it looks like the rookie is finally tapping into that top level of goaltending dominance that he hit last season after getting called up to Boston.
If Swayman can stay there it will cement his spot on Boston’s roster and it could go a long way toward solving some of the B’s current night-to-night problems.