When Jeremy Swayman made it at as a full-time NHLer at the age of 23 last year, it stood to reason he would have some hard lessons to learn. But if there was one aspect of his game that could have been considered a genuine a concern, it was his puck-handling ability.
Halfway through his second season, it appears Swayman is a quick study.
His puck-handling is vastly improved from where it was a year ago and, along with Linus Ullmark’s abilities with the puck, has been a big part of the Bruins’ overall process of getting back on the attack.
“It’s huge,” said coach Jim Montgomery. “In reviewing last year, I thought goalie handles could improve, not necessarily because it was the goalies but it’s a team part of our game that we wanted to be cleaner. It wasn’t really clean… I think we’ve gotten a lot better at it here. I think (goalie coach Bob Essensa) has done a great job with the goalies. (Ullmark) is really good and he’s comfortable getting it. And Swayman wasn’t and he’s getting there. I thought last game against the Rangers was the best he’s handled the puck all year. When you do handle the puck well with the goalie, you usually get one or two forecheckers trapped, which can lead to really good exits and speed at the opposition’s blue line. And I think that all five guys on the ice are connected with the goalie now, which is an area we’ve improved upon.”
When the subject was brought up, Swayman’s eyes lit up. He’s clearly proud of the strides he’s made from last year.
“We work on it a lot in practice. Our D corps is super good about communicating and it makes my job easier. It’s jut getting it on and off my stick as crisp as possible,” said Swayman.
“It’s just feeling the puck, getting out there early and getting puck touches. Vision’s a big thing, too, reading the other team’s forecheck and reading where they’re going to be and to know what to do with the puck when you don’t have play or there’s no communication. And just having confidence with it.”
While a lot of the work has been on-ice repetition, Montgomery said there’s an off-ice component to it as well.
“A lot of it is communication, but a lot of it is video review, too,” said Montgomery. “The least amount of time the puck is on the goalie’s stick, the quicker we can get out of our own end and the quicker we can catch people in between. That’s what we’ve been focusing on. I think Linus has the ability to hold the puck and bypass the forecheck. I don’t think Sway’s there yet, but that will come with time.”
If the strides he’s made so far are any indication, Swayman will get there. Being a student of the game and having a healthy perspective of where he is in his career appear to be strengths of the young netminder.
“Again, you can’t buy experience,” said Swayman. “You just have to go through it. It’s been really good being able to get more puck touches and having guys trust me with the puck and trusting myself with the puck. I’ve always had the confidence. Don’t get me wrong. But you want to get better and better at it. As soon as you think you’re the best at it, you’re going to get humbled pretty quick.”
Swayman had a rather high profile learning moment this year, too. In a Dec. 9 game in Arizona, the clock was ticking down in the tie game when a dribbler rolled toward his net. It crossed the goal line, hit the side of the net and should have been called an icing to give the B’s an offensive zone draw with about 15 seconds left. But the linesman blew the call, waving off the icing. The Coyotes gained control and scored the game-winner with little time left on the clock.
While it was a blown call – these things happen – Swayman said he’d play it differently.
“Looking back on it, I’m not going to have a doubt. I’m going to play a puck that is going to be a questionable call because I’m not going to put myself in that position again,” said Swayman. “So I’m thankful for that experience and I’m thankful it wasn’t in a bigger game or a bigger situation. I’m going to remember that stuff for the rest of my career. That’s important. I’m thankful for that.” …
Brandon Carlo was given the go-ahead to play on Sunday after having to leave Thursday’s game after blocking a shot. Instead of a broken bone, it turned out to be nerve issue.
“When I was coming off the ice, the pain was very similar to what it was like when I did break my ankle a couple of years ago,” said Carlo. “Thankfully, the x-rays came back and everything was good. It must have hit some sort of nerve because it was similar to that feeling. But I woke up the next morning, did the right things, keeping the ice on it and all those things has helped a bit with the inflammation. It’s still pretty painful in the boot but I definitely feel capable of skating and doing my job.” …
Causeway Street will see little of the B’s for a while. After Sunday’s Garden game against San Jose, the B’s next play at home on Feb. 11 against Washington and they have just three home games between now and the end of February. They’ll hit the road with a nine-game road point streak (8-0-1).