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A clear No. 1 goalie is emerging for Bruins, and that's very encouraging

A clear No. 1 goalie is emerging for Bruins, and that's very encouraging originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins had two major questions entering the season. One has been answered, and more clarity has been given on the other.

The first question was could the Bruins generate more 5-on-5 scoring? The answer, through eight games, is a resounding yes. Boston ranks tied for second in 5-on-5 goals with 22, and 14 different players have scored at least once. That total includes Brad Marchand, who returned to the lineup a month ahead of schedule and scored twice in Thursday's 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

The other major question was whether Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman could pull away from the other in the goalie competition and become the clear-cut No. 1 option at the position.

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Both goalies played 41 games last season and their stats were nearly identical. They each started multiple playoff games, too, with Swayman getting the nod in the final five matchups in Round 1 versus the Carolina Hurricanes.

The reality is you need one goalie to be the guy.

It's great to have strong depth at the position and the Bruins have enjoyed that luxury for over a decade. But how many teams win the Stanley Cup without a true No. 1 goalie? How many teams start multiple netminders in the conference final or Stanley Cup Final? It almost never happens.

Montgomery was asked at Media Day earlier this month if a team is better off with a clear No. 1 goalie, and his answer was interesting (and telling).

"The Bruins have had tremendous success both ways," Montgomery said. "I think a lot of credit has to go to Bob Essensa. He’s done a great job developing the relationship with the goalies, making sure that the Bruins get excellent goaltending throughout the regular season to be able to have the opportunity to get in the playoffs.

"I think everyone would say, ideally, you have a number one by the time you get into the playoffs and after the trade deadline. That’s up to one of those two goaltenders to emerge ahead of the other. In today’s NHL, to have success in the regular season, with as many threes and fours as you have. You have to have two goalies that can do the job night in and night out."

While it's still quite early, Ullmark has opened up a wide lead in this competition.

He's been one of the NHL's best goalies over the first two weeks of the season. He's posted a 5-0-0 record with a .936 save percentage, a 2.01 GAA and a 5.17 goals saved above average (third-best in the league).

"He has set the bar high, and that's what we want from each other," Swayman told reporters after Thursday's win. "We want to be the best duo in professional hockey. That's what we strive for everyday and we make sure we're pushing each other every day, so we're excited about the results we're getting."

Swayman had a rough beginning to the season, especially in his second start, which was a 7-5 loss to the Ottawa Senators on the road. He gave up six goals on 25 shots. But he bounced back in his next start Thursday night, allowing only one goal on 29 shots as the Bruins defeated the Red Wings.

"We never had any doubt that when he got back in, he would turn in this kind of performance," Montgomery said of Swayman's latest outing.

Based on how the goalie competition has played out so far, the Bruins should keep riding Ullmark.

He has earned the opportunity, and not just with his stellar start to the current season. Ullmark really started to hit his stride toward the end of the 2021-22 campaign. He posted a .933 save percentage and a 1.81 GAA over the final two months of the regular season and clearly outplayed Swayman during that span. It's the reason why Ullmark got the Game 1 playoff start.

Ullmark is the No. 1 guy right now, and the Bruins should continue to give him every chance to widen his lead in the goalie competition as long as he keeps performing at a high level.

Nick Goss on the goalie competition

Ullmark's uptick in performance can be partly attributed to having a full season in Boston under his belt.

"I just feel a little bit more comfortable off the ice with the boys," Ullmark told reporters after beating the Minnesota Wild last Saturday. "There's not a whole lot of new things, not a lot of new personnel. I don't have to get to know everybody, I don't have to get to know the system, I don't have to get to know the city -- everything. Just life, basically. I'm in a better spot."

Montgomery is right about needing two goalies, though.

The number of goalies starting 60-plus games has been decreasing over the last decade as we learn more about sports science (nutrition, rest, etc.). It's not only a bad idea to give that many starts to a single goalie, the schedule these days makes it almost impossible. Teams rarely have multiple days off between games.

The last three normal 82-game regular seasons have seen fewer than 10 goalies receive 60 or more starts.

  • 2014-15: 12

  • 2015-16: 10

  • 2016-17: 11

  • 2017-18: 8

  • 2018-19: 8

  • 2021-22: 5

Ullmark having a firm grip on the No. 1 goalie role throughout the season isn't a bad scenario for Swayman. Not at all, actually. Swayman almost certainly would still get 30-plus starts, and that kind of workload allows him to develop at a bit of a slower pace without having the pressure and expectations of being the No. 1 guy. He's only 23 years old, and not many goalies his age are clear No. 1's playing 50-plus games every season.

Tuukka Rask's career arc is a great example of how Swayman can develop into a fantastic netminder playing behind a more veteran No. 1 guy. Rask played 45 games in 2009-10 when Thomas battled injuries. And then Rask started 49 more games as a backup over the next two seasons. By the time Thomas left the team before the 2012-13 campaign, Rask was fully ready to take over as the starter and become a top 10 goalie for the next eight years.

Frankly, it doesn't matter if Ullmark or Swayman becomes the clear-cut No. 1 goalie, just as long as one of them does it.

Ullmark is that guy right now, and the Bruins should continue to give him every chance to widen his lead in the goalie competition as long as he keeps performing at a high level.