With Joonas Korpisalo Injured and Elvis Merzlikins the Current Starter, We Take a Look at Whether Matiss Kivlenieks or Veini Vehviläinen Will Get a Start in the Coming Weeks

By Max Steele on January 4, 2020 at 10:15 am
Jan 2, 2020; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) sprays water on his face during the third period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
© Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Elvis Merzlikins is hot, folks.

After a rough start to his NHL career, Merzlikins has begun to show his potential as an NHL goaltender and with Joonas Korpisalo's injury, he appears to be "the guy" for the next 4 to 6 weeks.

However, it is unlikely that Merzlikins will make every start in Korpisalo's absence.  From December 29th to February 9th (6 weeks after Korpisalo's injury, the latter projected recovery time) there are 17 games.  Though some of the league's strong goaltenders have been known to play many games in a row, it's hard to believe the Blue Jackets would deploy Mezlikins with this number of contests and two back-to-backs scheduled.

So, who gives Merzlikins a rest and when?

Besides Korpisalo and Merzlikins, the Columbus organization has two goaltenders who have been a strong tandem with the Cleveland Monsters so far this season, Matiss Kivlenieks and Veini Vehviläinen.

At first sight, one might assume Kivlenieks would get the first chance to start with the NHL club.  The Latvian goaltender (countryman of Merzlikins) has been in the organization longer and currently sits on the NHL roster, being called-up with news of Korpisalo's injury.

However, this writer finds it unlikely that he will start.  It's much more likely that Kivlenieks received the call-up to allow Veini Vehviläinen to continue to get starts in the AHL to prepare for a future NHL start in the next 4 to 6 weeks.  

Vehviläinen has had a tremendous start to his first North American season, sporting a 2.01 GAA and .924 save percentage in 17 games played.  These numbers are much higher than Kivlenieks' 3.04 GAA and .894 save percentage and suggest Vehviläinen could be ready for a crack at a start in the big league.

As for when the rest for Merzlikins could occur, look for a call-up to be made for either the upcoming California road trip or the February 7th and 8th back-to-back (should Korpisalo still be injured at that point).  The rest of the schedule looks goaltender friendly with a decent amount of rest and not a lot of travel (outside of the Cal. road trip).

Merzlikins has been great in his recent starts but it's a bit far-fetched to assume he can start every game in a 4-to-6-week period.  With that in mind, it's important to start considering when his rest will occur and who will take over in net.

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