The Blue Jackets are a young team, and several players can vividly recall the feelings and emotions that Joonas Korpisalo is likely experiencing today.
The 21-year-old Korpisalo, called up from Lake Erie (AHL) last week in the wake of Sergei Bobrovsky’s groin injury, will make his NHL debut tonight when the Blue Jackets face the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nationwide Arena.
With another set of back-to-back games on tap – Tampa Bay tonight and then tomorrow night against the Dallas Stars – John Tortorella wanted to get Korpisalo a start in one of the two games while also giving Curtis McElhinney a night off. Tonight’s game and the scheduling behind it seemed to make sense, and thus Korpisalo gets the call tonight with the Blue Jackets needing two points in the worst way.
Ryan Murray was in Korpisalo’s skates not too long ago, albeit playing a different position with a different set of expectations and preparation, but he has a pretty good idea of what’s going through the young goaltender’s mind.
“You’re excited, you’re nervous…it’s kind of with you all day,” Murray said. “You try your best to prepare as if it’s any other game, but obviously, it’s not.”
The Blue Jackets have improved defensively under Tortorella, giving up fewer scoring chances and limiting opportunities in high-danger areas. Tortorella doesn’t want the Blue Jackets to change anything because a rookie goalie is making his debut – simply to continue what they’ve been doing.
“I think your defense should always be playing strong in front of a goalie, no matter if it’s his first game or he’s played 1,000 games,” Tortorella said. “That’s part of winning is playing proper defensively, so there’s no adjustments there. I thought we defended well against the Islanders the other night so we have to stay with it this evening.”
Korpisalo has been part of a two-headed goaltending monster (pardon the pun) in Cleveland, and the strong play of both he and cohort Anton Forsberg has been a big reason why the Monsters are challenging for the top spot in their division.
Regardless of who’s been in net, the Monsters have received quality goaltending efforts on a nightly basis. At the time of his recall, Korpisalo’s .928 save percentage was fifth-best in the AHL.
“We’re going to have faith in him back there,” Murray said. “He’s going to have to make some saves and we’re going to have to help him out. I’m not a goalie so I can’t speak to what they want or think, but if we can help him get into the game, that’s even better.
“Everyone feels better when they feel the puck early in the game. It’s the same as we want to do every night, just limit the scoring chances and take care of the puck, and hopefully we can help him out along the way.”