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Winter break-down: Blue Jackets goalies have dominated of late

Korpisalo, Merzlikins have gotten better and better as season goes on

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

In the hockey world, the biggest question mark facing the Blue Jackets going into the 2019-20 season was goaltending, and it's easy to see where they were coming from. 

Joonas Korpisalo had never been a full-time starter in the NHL and was coming off a trio of seasons with a negative goals saved above average mark as well as a combined save percentage of .899.  

Elvis Merzlikins, meanwhile, had not played a single minute of NHL hockey, and while his performances in Switzerland and with the Latvian national team were encouraging, there certainly were questions how his game would translate to the highest level of hockey in the world. 

After a slow start, of course, both have passed the test. Korpisalo's numbers were pedestrian through the first month before his play jumped up to an All-Star level, while Merzlikins overcame an 0-4-4 record to start his career to show the talent, athleticism and charisma that made him such an intriguing prospect since Korpisalo went down with a knee injury Dec. 29.  

"It's huge," defenseman Zach Werenski said of the play of the goalies. "We've had confidence pretty much all year in both of them. We knew what Korpi was coming into the season. We didn't know Elvis too well, but I think even after those first few games when he didn't have a win, he still gave us a chance to win every game. And now that he has that win, he has that confidence, he's rolling and it's fun to see." 

WINTER BREAK-DOWNS: Forwards | Defenseman

The play of both has led to a lot of excitement around the Blue Jackets goalies, and rightfully so. At the same time, head coach John Tortorella has cautioned that the recent success is just a small sample size and the two will continue to have to prove themselves.  

"There's still a lot of hockey to play," Tortorella said. "We're still trying to find out about (Merzlikins) and Korpi. We're not going to get ahead of projecting what they are, we're just going to let them play and go by that." 

What's gone well 

Since Nov. 1, just about everything other than Korpisalo's injury. The numbers are incredible in that time frame, as the Blue Jackets have a team save percentage of .930. 

From the beginning of November until his injury occurred vs. Chicago, Korpisalo played in 22 games and had a save percentage of .926, a number that jumped to .943 while going 6-0-3 in his last nine appearances before going on the shelf. All Merzlikins has done since taking over is top even that, with the Latvian starting 11 of the 12 games after Korpisalo's injury and posting a save percentage of .951 with three shutouts. 

Video: WPG@CBJ: Merzlikins sprawls for scorpion-style stop

For good measure, the one game in between went to rookie Matiss Kivlenieks, who stopped 31 of 32 shots Jan. 19 vs. the New York Rangers, giving him a save percentage of .969. 

In other words, it's hard to get much better than that. The Blue Jackets have talked about their goalie pipeline over the past few years, and the results have shown that pipeline is rather strong.  

Where there can be improvement 

Well, the numbers over the past three months honestly can't get much better, but where the Blue Jackets will be curious to see how things improve is with consistency.  

Certainly Korpisalo and Merzlikins have been on a roll, but history shows such a run -- at least when it comes to keeping a save percentage above .940 -- is unsustainable. The key will be to make sure any valleys are short and flat so the team will keep getting consistent netminding through the end of the season.  

On the spot: Joonas Korpisalo 

It's probably not fair to Korpisalo, who fairly and deservedly won the job in camp and then cemented his hold on it during December, but he'll be under a bit of a microscope when he returns. Provided Merzlikins continues to shine in the spotlight, Korpisalo will be under pressure to be at his best quickly or risk seeing the team continue to ride the hot hand. Best case scenario upon his return is the Blue Jackets have two goalies performing well, allowing the team to keep both fresh, but at some point at crunch time someone will likely have to take the reins.  

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