Bruins Goaltending Will Be Crucial Early in 2022-23

It is a safe bet that the Boston Bruins will be in survival mode for the first two months of the 2022-23 season, especially on defense. Top-four defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk will be sidelined as they recover from offseason surgeries, which leaves a pair of big holes that needs to be filled.

With the defense facing questions, there is no doubt that the goaltending will have to be on top of their game. There were several reasons why the Bruins were one of the top teams in the league following Jan. 1 last season. Some of their forwards put up some impressive numbers and even in some cases, career numbers to vault the Black and Gold up the Eastern Conference standings and into the first wild card spot with 107 points. Reaching that again this upcoming season might be tough, but if they are going to and survive the first two months, they will need their goaltending healthy and performing similarly to what they did last season.

Swayman and Ullmark Provided Good Tandem in 2021-22

Last season, the Bruins began the season with a tandem of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark in goal. Swayman was coming off an impressive 10 games in the 2020-21 season, while Ullmark was signed as a free agent to a four-year, $20 million contract. To make room for them, Dan Vladar was traded to the Calgary Flames and Tuukka Rask began the season recovering from off-season surgery, which he ended up coming back from, playing four games before announcing his retirement.

Linus Ullmark Boston Bruins
Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ullmark struggled early in the season, but as the season went along, he gained more confidence, he got better as the season went along and finished with a record of 26-10-2 and a 2.45 goals against average (GAA) and a .917 save percentage (SV%). He played the first two games of the first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, before giving way to Swayman for the final five games. 

It was not that Ullmark struggled in the series, the switch was made by former coach Bruce Cassidy to provide a spark for his team. There were multiple times in the series where he faced odd-man rushes, while also falling victim to suspect play by his teammates in front of him which allowed the more talented Hurricanes too many scoring chances, not to also mention the Black and Gold failures to score down the other end.

Swayman followed up his 10-game run of the previous season by going 24-13-3 in his first full season in the NHL with a 2.41 GAA and a .914 SV%. He was inserted into the lineup for Game 3 against Carolina and with the Bruins down 2-0, he won three of his five games, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7, which Boston lost 3-2.

Bruins Will Need Repeat Performances in Goal

With the injuries to McAvoy and Grzelcyk on defense and Brad Marchand, one of the top penalty killers for Montgomery, there is a good chance that there is going to be a lot of rubber fired at Swayman and Ullmark. Brandon Carlo and Hampus Lindholm will most likely be the top pairing, with the final two pairings being mixed and matched on a nightly basis. There is a good chance that both netminders will be facing odd-man rushes on multiple occasions early in the season.

Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins
Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The signing of Ullmark by the Bruins was a bit of a surprise by general manager (GM) Don Sweeney, but the returns in his first season were good. During his tenure with the Buffalo Sabres, injuries played a part in him missing time, while the team in front of him was going through and is still going through growing pains as they look toward building for the future. Asking him to repeat his 2021-22 season might be asking a lot of the 29-year-old, as he did not have strong back-to-back seasons with the Sabres for multiple reasons. After having a good second half of last season, there is hope he can carry the momentum from last season into this season. If he doesn’t, spending $5 million a year for a backup goalie is tough on the salary cap.

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Swayman answered a lot of questions as to whether or not he could follow up his 10-game stint the previous season with an even better season last season. As of now, the 111th pick of the 2017 Entry Draft is looking like a future franchise goalie as he plays with a ton of confidence and does a nice job of challenging shots and moving around his crease.

“As the season went on I thought I got more confident and the communication with my defense was really important,” said Swayman. “I think that was a really fun thing when we started making tape-to-tape passes without looking and just knowing where guys are going to be and learning tendencies on what guys like to do what when they come under the goal line. So I think that was a really good thing for myself and Linus to both work on and that’s something I’m definitely going to improve on.” (from ‘Jeremy Swayman gearing up for second Bruin campaign,’ Boston Herald, Aug. 28, 2022).

Swayman and Ullmark have quickly formed a bond, as evident by their hugs after every Bruins victory. If they are going to have hugs early in the season until the injured players get back in the lineup, they are going to have to be on top of their game from opening night. The more hugs they can have in October and November will go a long way toward having the opportunity to have more hugs in the postseason in the Spring.

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