The Bruins are down to just one battle in training camp.
It’s in the Boston crease, too, with second-year pro Jeremy Swayman and $20 million free agent addition Linus Ullmark vying for the coveted title of No. 1 goaltender.
And Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is in no rush to name a winner.
“No,” Cassidy said when asked if he’s named his Opening Night starter. “[But] I’m usually pretty good at giving you [that] the day before, so you can ask me again. I will guarantee I’ll give you the answer then, but we’ve got a ways to go.”
Game 1 starter...— Ty Anderson (@_TyAnderson) October 5, 2021
To Cassidy’s point, there’s no rush in declaring a winner because the preseason isn’t finished and because it’s not your typical camp battle. The ‘loser’ isn’t getting sent to the minors nor will their 2021-22 ceiling change all that drastically because of an Oct. 16 decision. After years of mapping out the ideal number of games for Tuukka Rask, the Bruins aren’t even sure how their goaltending situation is going to play out this year, and the plan as of right now seems to be that workloads and starts will be mapped out on a monthly basis. It wouldn’t and shouldn’t surprise anybody if that month-to-month planning becomes a week-to-week plan at some point this season, especially given Ullmark’s extensive injury history, Swayman’s inexperience with an 82-game slate, and the potential of a Rask return at some point this season.
But there’s something to be said about being the team’s Game 1 starter and what it typically means. For the Bruins, it may simply mean that the goaltender leading you onto the ice against the Stars later this month is your 1A to begin the year while the other is your 1B. (Ullmark isn’t making $5 million a year to be a 60-game workhorse, nor is that something that the Bruins are particularly interested in doing with Swayman trying to build off last year’s impressive 10-game sample.)
And if you’re looking for a 1A kind of performance, the 22-year-old Sway has indeed been the Way this preseason.
In net for three starts this fall, Swayman has posted a .932 save percentage (second-best among goalies with at least 100 minutes played) and stopped all but three of the 21 high-danger shots faced. Swayman has been especially devastating at five-on-five, with an otherworldly .978 (quick shoutout Billerica) save percentage this preseason. Swayman nearly willed an almost entirely P-Bruins squad over the Flyers on Monday night, too, with 34 saves on 36 shots faced.
“He’s awesome,” Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. “He’s got a contagious personality. He’s always smiling, always having a good time. It’s someone in your room that brings the spirits up and that’s him and who he is as a person.”
Swayman has honestly left little doubt when it comes to his readiness for the start of the season.
It’s been a different kind of tune-up for the 28-year-old Ullmark.
While there’s no doubt that Ullmark is ‘a bit of a character’ (Curtis Lazar’s words, not mine) and has fit in the dressing room as well as the Bruins could have hoped, the on-ice results haven’t followed him the way they have Swayman.
After stopping 11 of the 13 shots thrown his way in over 30 minutes of work in his preseason debut, Ullmark got all of last Saturday’s meeting with the Rangers and surrendered four goals on 19 shots, including a brutal overtime goal. Ullmark was critical of his game after the loss, saying that it’s probably an ‘easy win’ for the Bruins if he steps up his game. Cassidy didn’t go that far, but he did say admit that Ullmark’s game needed some work between now and the start of the year.
That’s certainly true, as Ullmark’s .813 save percentage ranks 45th out of 46 goalies with at least 60 minutes played this preseason. (Brian Elliott is the only one who’s been worse, in case you’re wondering.) The Bruins are also clearly going to be patient with Ullmark’s transition from Buffalo to Boston, and are hoping that the final stink of the Sabres wears off his pads in time for when these games begin to matter for the Black and Gold.
And though Cassidy has yet to name a Game 1 starter, he will let his goaltending camp battle play out with one final chance for Ullmark to respond to Swayman’s excellence, as he will get the start in Wednesday’s preseason finale at TD Garden.
Click here for 98.5 The Sports Hub’s complete coverage of the Bruins.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.