Season Preview: Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins Will Continue to Compete for the Starting Job

By Sam Blazer on October 2, 2019 at 8:07 am
St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) scores against Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) during the second period at Enterprise Center.
Jeff Curry-USA Today Sports

The storyline has been parroted all season long. What in the world are the Columbus Blue Jackets going to do with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky?

He left for South Florida for riches and more sun, it left many in Central Ohio out in the cold. Two new but familiar goaltenders, Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins will be filling in this season vying to take over Bobrovsky's old post.

With both players relatively inexperienced, it will be an adventure before each game to see who starts and who is getting the proper net time.  

It appears early on that Korpisalo will get the edge but in reality, it is anyone's game and that is what makes this position the most compelling on the entire squad. 

What's New:

Pretty much everything. You know exactly what you're getting with Joonas Korpisalo. He is athletic and can be fantastic with his lateral movements. Meanwhile, with Elvis Merzlikins, you have a player that dominated the Swiss league and finally will be trying his hand at North American hockey.

Merzlikins remains relatively unknown considering he is still working out his kinks with the new style of hockey. Meanwhile, Korpisalo has more of a plug and play component to him. He knows what the team is like and he knows the strengths and weaknesses around him. It would be too easy to hand the keys over to him but it makes too much sense.

What's Great:

Neither has any past trauma that you can put on their shoulders. It became increasingly obvious that Bobrovsky did not like the blame falling on his shoulders for past poor playoff performances. The idea of seeing a sports psychologist was something that he scoffed at. 

Now with Merzlikins and Korpisalo you have two players that aren't going to have that baggage. Merzlikins has played on Olympic and World Championship stages while Korpisalo can harken back on his prior NHL experience. 

A blank slate can be good.

What's Concerning:

While a blank slate could be good. It also means you have no idea what you are going to get. 

You can talk to a million goaltending experts and almost all of them will tell you the same thing. Merzlikins and Korpisalo look the part. They do all of the small things right, they have elite athleticism and are able to make plays many aren't able to. The questions then becomes how long and how consistently can you keep it up. 

Both of them are going to have unprecedented workloads. Even if one player is relied upon more than the other, they'll have to work in tandem. Who performs well and when is going to be a battle all by itself making this position must-watch tv.

What To Watch:

This is difficult to even narrow down. The main storyline that needs to be watched and followed is how coach John Tortorella decides to use each player. 

The last time we saw Tortorella having to decipher a goalie battle was with the Vancouver Canucks. Picking between Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo ended up being a controversy anytime a player stepped on the ice.

Now being in Central Ohio, Tortorella has settled down and this showdown between the two is going to get nowhere near the same attention. 

It will, however, be important to see who is playing on a back to back. Who is playing against the perceived weaker opponent? That will illuminate a lot and show what each hand is currently being dealt to the goaltenders. 

If one player takes control, don't be surprised if they hold onto it all season long. Continuity for continuities sake is a tad underrated.

How They Stack Up:

While in the other previews you'll see stats supporting the arguments. There is very little to base off of for both players.  In 90 games played, Korpisalo has 41 wins and 31 losses with a .907 save percentage. In his most recent season with HC Lugano, Merzlikins played in 43 games posting a .921 save percentage.

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