- Tim Burke
Battle of Bruins Goaltenders: Swayman vs Ullmark
The competition between Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe for the Patriots starting Quarterback has taken the world of New England sports by storm. However, everyone should be paying attention to the competition for the Bruins starting Goaltender because it's a legitimate competition. After the retirement of legendary Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, It appeared Jeremy Swayman was the right man to fill Rask's skates between the pipes for the B's. Swayman, the Bruins 4th round draft choice in 2017, had a stellar start to his NHL career. In his first 10 NHL games, Swayman had a .945 SV% and two shutouts. In 2021-2022, Swayman's first full season, he had an excellent start to the year. From October- February, Swayman played 24 games with a .929SV%. Only one Goaltender in the NHL finished with a higher SV% last year, Vezina trophy winner Igor Shesterkin.
Everyone was content with Jeremy Swayman being the next starting goaltender for the Bruins. Even the small percentage of Bruins fans who hated Tuukka Rask was happy with Jeremy Swayman. Then March came, and the inexperienced showed up. During March and April, Swayman's SV% was .891, dropping his SV% on the year to .914 T-15 in the NHL. It was foolish to expect growing pains weren’t coming for Swayman. Prior to the NHL, Swayman only appeared in nine games at the pro hockey level with the Providence Bruins. In comparison, fellow elite college hockey goaltenders Connor Hellebucyk, Thatcher Demko, and Jake Ottinger all had at least one full season in the AHL, if not multiple, before becoming their team's starting Goaltender. Considering he was dominating at the game's highest level upon his arrival, it was difficult to see Swayman needing more experience at the pro level. He was dominating at a time when the Bruins needed a new starting goaltender. But there is a massive difference in the level of play in the NCAA and the NHL. Even the best college hockey goaltender in history, Connor Hellebucyk, played nearly 100 games at the AHL level before becoming the Winnipeg Jets goaltender. It is clear that Swayman could have used that additional time because we are seeing a lot of growing pains. He is not playing with the confidence he had in the middle of last season.
Enter Linus Ullmark. Ullmark signed a four-year 20 million dollar contract with the Boston Bruins before the 2021-2022 season. Swayman had the hot hand for a large portion of last season, but Ullmark was also solid in net for the Bruins throughout the year. Before the NHL All-Star break, Ullmark posted a modest .912% with a 2.64 Goals Against Average. Once the All-Star break was over, Ullmark's game went to another level. He posted a 2.16 GAA and a .923 SV% and appeared to be in line to be the Bruins #1 goaltender for the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Bruins, Ullmark suffered a concussion at the end of the regular season. When he returned for two games of the playoff series against the Hurricanes, he was not 100% and allowed four goals in each contest. He didn't appear for the remainder of the seven-game series. However, his strong finish to the 2021-2022 season appears to have carried over into this season. So far this year, Ullmark has had a strong 33 save performance in a 5-2 over the Washington Capitals and an impressive 38-save performance against the Florida Panthers. I wrote about the impressive performance from Jake Debrusk in that 5-3 Panthers victory already, and yes, he was that game's first star, but the biggest reason the Bruins won that game was Ullmark. He was phenomenal in net against a dangerous Panthers team that won the Atlantic Conference last year.
Despite scoring five goals, the Bruins were outplayed for large portions of that game and made a lot of sloppy defensive plays. Ullmark stole that game for the Bruins. He looked great in the final two months of last season and continues to look great now. Ullmark does not get nearly enough credit for how good he's been with the Boston Bruins. Let's dive in a little deeper. One of the more advanced goaltending statistics for goaltenders is called Goals Saved Above Expected. This stat considers several factors, such as shot distance and angle, the goalie's positioning, and the number of defensemen and sticks in the area when a shot is attempted. Since the start of the 2021-2022 season, Linus Ullmark has played 43 games as a Boston Bruin; he has +7.3 goals above expected. Jeremy Swayman's goals above expected is 0.4 in 43 games. Another area where Ullmark excels is consistency. This is evident when it comes to the home/road splits. Last season, Ullmark posted a .912 SV% with 2.42 Goals Against at the Garden, While posting a .920 SV% and 2.47 GAA on the road. Jeremy Swayman's home save percentage was .898, with 2.81 Goals Against in 19 games. Swayman was significantly better on the road with a .926 SV% and a 2.08 Goals Against In 21 games. Not that these splits carry much significance, but this illustrates that Linus Ullmark is a much more consistent presence in the net for the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins have two good goaltenders on their roster. At 29 years old, Ullmark is in the prime of his career. He certainly is the more experienced and consistent of the two Bruins goaltenders, but his biggest concern throughout his career has been his health. While playing a career-high 43 games in 2021-2022, Ullmark posted career-highs in wins (26), goals against average (2.45), and his .917% Save Percentage matched another career high for the Swedish Goaltender. However, at 23 years old, Jeremy Swayman played some excellent hockey for the Bruins for large portions in 2021-2022. He has a high ceiling and tons of potential. His recent struggles are expected from a young goaltender. We saw Tristan Jarry of the Penguins overcome struggles after initial success in his NHL career. Growing pains are a part of the journey for a young goaltender. Swayman is capable of making adjustments and improving as his career furthers. For the Bruins, having two solid goaltenders compete for the job is a good problem to have. It will be fun to see how it plays out this season. The Bruins need one of them to step up to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Who will it be?