Boston Bruins need Jeremy Swayman to live up to his potential

Boston Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman (1). Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman (1). Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2022-23 Boston Bruins were supposed to be his team. Jeremy Swayman was supposed to be the man between the pipes, shouldering the majority of starts, the last defense of a six-by-four foot basket.

Just last year Swayman and Linus Ullmark both started 39 games for the Bruins. Ullmark posted slightly better numbers than the then-23-year-old Swayman, but that was understandable. To be playing almost as well as a seventh year veteran was very encouraging. Where would Swayman’s potential take him with a little more experience?

So far, to the bench. Ullmark has an almost 3-to-1 starts ratio over Swayman through November first. And based on performance, it’s deserved. Swayman’s save percentage dropped from .914 to .878 while his GAA skyrocketed to 3.45, a 1.04 goal increase.

Swayman had been sidelined for about two weeks with a knee injury, suffered in a game that could had begun his turnaround. Swayman came off the bench to relieve Ullmark after Ullmark allowed five goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 31:36 of play. Swayman made four saves before Patrice Bergeron crashed into his teammate.

When Swayman comes back, he will return to being Ulmark’s back-up. Swayman’s position right now looks more like way back back-up.

The Boston Bruins need to get Jeremy Swayman right for the sake of the team

Ideally the Bruins would had transitioned to a new franchise netminder with Tuukka Rask approaching the end of his career. Swayman competed with Dan Vladar in 2020-21, as the rookies tried to establish who the better prospect was. Swayman won, convincingly.

And for a season, Swayman proved the Bruins right. His play through the season and playoffs was enough to suggest Swayman should be named the starting goalie next season.

Now the concern is will Swayman become the next Rask or the next Blaine Lacher.

Swayman returned to practice on Tuesday. If he’s cleared to play, head coach Jim Montgomery might play him Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers or Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks. The hope is Swayman plays more like last season’s version.

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How the Boston Bruins get Swayman better is hard to say. It’s not a simple fix. Maybe the time sidelined could be a good thing for the 24-year-old. Two weeks watching the game, classroom time analyzing his play and conversations with the coaches could be beneficial to Swayman.

Whatever Swayman does, he has no excuse if his play doesn’t improve. The Boston Bruins are fully healthy with Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Brad Marchand all back from off-season surgery.

Montgomery told he wants to reduce the load on Ullmark. A sharp Swayman would allow Montgomery to do so.

"Linus is playing too many games. He’s leading the league in games played [13 games, 12 starts], right, so we want to get Sways back as soon as possible,” said Montgomery. “I can’t say it’s a rotation we’re going to get back to but getting more of a split rotation going."

It’s understandable to play the hot glove hand (Ullmark is first in wins with eleven, first in GAA at 1.96, second in save percentage at .936 [minimum 10 starts]), but Boston will need Ullmark fresh when the playoffs arrive. That won’t happen if Ullmark maintains this workload.

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If Swayman can’t regain his form, Boston will find a reliable back-up. They might not have to look far.

With Swayman injured, Ullmark finished the Penguins game and started the next four. Keith Kincaid gave Ullmark a much needed rest and turned in an impressive performance. He held the Buffalo Sabres to one goal and a .968 save percentage.

That shouldn’t make Swayman look over his shoulder. Hopefully his confidence is still high. The best confidence boost would be a congratulatory hug from Ullmark.