Bruins somehow replicating last year's freakishly good goaltending

The Boston Bruins seemed like an obvious regression candidate in 2023-24, but their goaltending remains as absurdly great as ever.

Entering the season there were plenty of reasons to believe the Boston Bruins were in for a letdown.

For one, it would've been almost impossible to beat the historic 135-point season they managed in 2022-23. But even against a less ambitious bar, Boston seemed to have some issues with the irreplaceable Patrice Bergeron and the reliable David Krejčí retiring.

The team also appeared unlikely to be able to find the kind of goaltending it received in 2022-23.

Linus Ullmark entered that season with a track record of reliability in seven years as a tandem partner but he'd never been a superstar. He produced a Vezina Trophy-winning season no one saw coming.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Swayman came into 2022-23 with an excellent .920 career save percentage, but he'd only made 49 NHL starts and remained something of a wild card. He proved to be the perfect 1B goaltender, helping the Bruins post an NHL-best team save percentage of .931 — 27 points above the league average.

Considering Ullmark and Swayman's resumes entering last season, it would've been unfair to assume they'd recreate last season's magic — particularly with a six-time Selke Trophy winner in Bergeron exiting the building.

The season is still young, but somehow they are doing even better with a .947 mark so far, which has helped drive Boston's 8-0-1 record.

The Boston Bruins goaltending tandem has been shutting the door on opponents. (Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
The Boston Bruins goaltending tandem has been shutting the door on opponents. (Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

That starts with Swayman, who's been nothing short of superhuman in the early going.

Those numbers are frankly absurd, and it's tough to chalk them up to more than a heater. For instance, Swayman has a .906 save percentage on high-danger opportunities per NHL Edge. The league average is .766. A trend like that simply isn't going to continue.

The 25-year-old is undoubtedly an excellent goaltender, but he isn't a freak of nature. Coming into 2023-24 his career save percentage was .920, and that's exactly what he posted last season. That provides a solid idea of what to expect going forward.

Ullmark's work has been a little more interesting because it so closely mimics what he did last year.

Via NHL Edge
Via NHL Edge

The Swede's 2023-24 numbers come from just five games, but it's still remarkable how similar he's been to his Vezina-winning form. The fact he ended 2021-22 on such a strong note also reinforces the idea that 2022-23 might not be a true outlier.

In the final 12 games of that 2021-22 season, Ullmark produced a 9-1-0 stretch with a .945 save percentage. That means that over his last 66 games spanning three different seasons he has a .939 SV% to his name — with a 53-7-2 record to show for those efforts.

That sample size isn't unimpeachable, but it suggests that the regression hammer may not be coming for Ullmark the way many assumed entering 2023-24.

It will come for Swayman to some degree, much the same way as the Bruins probably aren't going to have the 159-point season they are currently on pace for.

Even so, Boston appeared to be vulnerable to a scenario where its goaltenders took a major step back just as it lost some serious punch in the middle of its lineup. That had potential to rock the foundation of a team that looked like a juggernaut just a handful of months ago.

So far that simply hasn't happened, and the evidence to suggest it will is becoming weaker by the day. The Bruins' goaltending tandem probably can't keep their save percentage within a whisper of .950, but there's plenty of room for the duo to decline and still give this team what it needs to win.

In a league where nobody seems to have goaltending figured out, the Bruins keep getting excellence from their crease. As long as that continues, the comedown from last season's historic effort should be far less dramatic than expected.