Boston Bruins

Linus Ullmark Is Bruins' MVP, Vezina Trophy Favorite Two Months Into Season

Where would the Bruins be without early Vezina favorite Linus Ullmark? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Why are the Boston Bruins the best team in the NHL through the first two months of the 2022-23 season?

There isn't one particular reason or player responsible for the league-leading 23-4-2 record. The truth is, from top to bottom, just about every player on the Bruins roster has met or exceeded expectations. First-year head coach Jim Montgomery has also been a breath of fresh air with his aggressive, up-tempo style of hockey that suits so many of the players really well.

But if you really want to make a case for one particular factor as the primary reason for Boston's historic success to begin the season, look no further than Linus Ullmark.

What a difference a year makes, right?

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At this time in 2021, Ullmark was struggling to find his footing in his debut season with the B's. The first year for a goalie in a new system is always tough, and Ullmark was not immune. The Swedish netminder posted a .906 save percentage and a 2.79 GAA in his first 26 games.

He finished the regular season strong with a .933 save percentage in his last 14 games, before starting the first two games of the playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes. Ullmark didn't play well, giving up eight goals in two losses. In his defense, the entire team played like garbage in those two matchups. Backup Jeremy Swayman finished the series as the No. 1 goalie and the B's were eliminated in Game 7.

The Bruins entered the 2022-23 campaign with a real competition for the No. 1 goalie job. After posting nearly identical regular season stats in 2021-22, Ullmark and Swayman both had plenty to prove.

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.

Ullmark on being more comfortable in Year 2 with the B's

So far, Ullmark has established himself as the clear No. 1, and it would require a pretty dramatic downturn in his performance for that position to change.

"I just feel a little bit more comfortable off the ice with the boys," Ullmark said after beating the Anaheim Ducks in October. "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."

Ullmark's stats are just crazy, both in all situations and 5-on-5.

Wins are far from the best stat to judge goalies, similar to quarterbacks in the NFL, but a 17-1-1 record to begin the season is a videogame-like number.

Ullmark's 17 wins are the second-most for a goalie in the first 20 games of a season in league history.

Ullmark's latest performance came Thursday night in a 3-2 shootout loss to a quality Los Angeles Kings team. He made 28 saves on 30 shots (.933 save percentage).

Four days earlier, Ullmark made 30 saves on 31 shots in leading the Bruins to a 3-1 win against the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights on the road.

"He’s such a stud. I just told him that. It’s awesome playing in front of him," Bruins forward Taylor Hall told reporters about Ullmark after the win in Vegas. "He makes us feel comfortable. He makes saves look easy. It’s a fun goalie to play in front of.”

Ullmark's fantastic start doesn't mean the Bruins will go away from Swayman -- not at all. Swayman's development is important to the Bruins' present and future success. His performance has taken a step back this year with a .887 save percentage and 2.80 GAA in 10 appearances (eight starts), but the Bruins will need Swayman to play plenty of games in the second half of the regular season.

Ullmark has played 21 of the team's first 29 games so far, which puts him on pace to play 59 games, and that would beat his previous career high for games played in a regular season of 41. Of course, Ullmark isn't likely to play 59 games, and it would be ideal if he was under 55, so it's important that Swayman gives the B's consistently strong performances in net to lessen the workload on his teammate.

The Bruins have received great contributions from many players to begin the season, but none of them have been more important to the team's success than Ullmark playing at a Vezina Trophy level. The Bruins' much improved scoring depth and Ullmark's stellar play have made this team a top contender for the Stanley Cup.

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