For a while, the Boston Bruins’ goalie situation was pretty simple: Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.
But thanks to a number of situations, chiefly Rask hurting his back and Halak testing positive for COVID-19, there have been all sorts of combinations: Halak and Dan Vladar, Vladar and Jeremy Swayman, Swayman and Rask.
You get the point.
But both Rask and Halak played in Friday’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres, meaning they’re both healthy. Swayman has taken the NHL by storm, though, and is proving that he can hack it at the highest level.
So, with 10 games remaining and the playoffs rapidly approaching, how should the Bruins navigate things in net?
Swayman currently is penciled in to start Sunday against the Penguins, with Rask the tentative netminder for Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy indicated that the availability of Halak could impact things.
Boston’s schedule is a meat grinder the rest of the way. The Bruins have no more than one day off in between games, and they have two sets of back-to-backs. All told, it’s 10 games in 16 days beginning Sunday.
For that reason, it might make sense for the Bruins to just rotate all three goalies through. Swayman is still waivers exempt, so he can be put on the taxi squad without issue. When he plays, Rask or Halak, whoever isn’t backing up, is a healthy scratch.
The potential problem is that Halak and Rask need their game reps after missing weeks of action. How much remains to be seen, but they’re also goalies in their mid-30s who are coming off various ailments. Thus, it seems like leaning on them a bunch through this 16-day sprint might not be prudent with the postseason coming up.
And as important as it is to keep Rask and Halak fresh, we’re at the point now where Swayman factors into a lot of this. If Rask or Halak gets hurt, Swayman seems like the next man up. Sure, the Bruins could send him down to the AHL to get some more consistent playing time and bring Booth up to be the taxi squad goalie. However, it probably makes more sense to have Swayman practicing with the NHL team and playing in every three or four games.
The Bruins came into the season with an unsettled goaltending depth chart. Rask was No. 1, obviously, followed by Halak. Then, it was Swayman, Vladar and Booth jockeying for the next three spots.
Swayman is the obvious No. 3 now, followed by Vladar and Booth. And with teams carrying one goalie on the taxi squad at all times, the point in the season has arrived where the No. 3 guy should be the taxi squad goalie.
Perhaps Cassidy after Sunday will just lean on Rask and Halak the rest of the way, with Swayman being the break glass option. There’s logic to that decision, too. But it just seems like Swayman has become too important of a factor that the Bruins could be wise to operate under the impression that they have a goalie trio, not tandem.
Of course, that’s not a bad problem to have. It’s a great one, actually.