The Boston Bruins have been on an absolute tear all season long, but they have hit a bit of a roadblock of sorts as of late, losing two of their last three games to snap what had been a ten-game win streak. The common denominator in those two losses was that Jeremy Swayman was in goal for the B’s rather than Linus Ullmark.
Part of the allure of the Bruins’ standout campaign has been their ability to win with either Swayman or Ullmark in net. Both guys have been stellar when they have been on the ice this season, but it’s been clear all along the Ullmark is putting together a season worthy of winning the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender. Yet he’s only played in 40 of the Bruins 65 games, with Swayman drawing starts in the other 25 contests.
The Bruins have the luxury of being lightyears ahead of every other team in the standings right now, but with the playoffs creeping up on them, they can’t afford to give their competitors any inclination that they could be slowing up. And in order to do that, they are going to have to stop giving Swayman consistent starts over Ullmark.
The Bruins need to stop giving Jeremy Swayman starts over Linus Ullmark
The advantages of running a goalie-platoon of sorts is clear. You want to keep both guys ready to go for the playoffs, and have the ability to ride the hot hand in the playoffs. Last season, Swayman was the hot hand for Boston in their lone postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes, while Ullmark struggled and was eventually benched in favor of Swayman.
This season, Ullmark has been the hot hand all season long, and is the leading candidate to win the Vezina Trophy this season. Ullmark’s numbers (1.89 GAA, 93.8 SV%, 33 wins in 40 starts) are outrageously good, and of the seven games he has lost this season, only four have come in regulation. The Bruins as a whole have been great, but with Ullmark in net, they are nearly unbeatable.
Swayman himself has been good (2.37 GAA, 91.3 SV%, 16 wins in 25 starts) but he’s been on the ice for the majority of Boston’s losses this season, despite playing far less than Ullmark. Swayman has been playing like a starting goalie, but when your competition is a red-hot Ullmark, you aren’t going to stand much of a chance.
The Bruins have lost Swayman’s last two starts now, and he didn’t play particularly great in either one. He faced just 22 shots while allowing three goals against the Edmonton Oilers last Thursday, and their game-winning goal was likely a play that Swayman would like to have back. And then against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon, Swayman proceeded to let in four unanswered goals to put Boston in a 4-0 hole they couldn’t climb out of.
This isn’t all Swayman’s fault; it is worth noting the Bruins were playing the second game of a home-and-home back-to-back on Sunday afternoon, but his play hasn’t been particularly good for a while now. He’s let up at least two goals in seven of his past nine starts, and if it weren’t for the fact that the B’s just keep on winning, many folks would be calling for Swayman’s head.
Keeping Ullmark fresh is key, but the Bruins can’t keep affording to put Swayman on the ice when Ullmark is playing as good as he’s played this season. They aren’t in jeopardy of losing the top seed in the East, but there’s no need to take the foot off the gas pedal. Losing momentum heading into the playoffs will not help the B’s accomplish their main goal of raising the Stanley Cup this season.
Is it premature to complain about Swayman after he lost his last two starts? Maybe, but it’s clear this Bruins team is being held to a higher standard of success than any other team in the league right now. Ullmark shouldn’t start every game, but there’s no reason that he and Swayman should be splitting time at this point. When you have the best goalie in the league, you should use him, and maybe the Bruins will realize that after two more rough outings from Swayman.