It's safe to say that scoring goals wins games in the NHL, and then effectively gets you into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite that obvious fact, the most important thing for the Columbus Blue Jackets will be what they have leaned on heavily all season long: goaltending. Which, interestingly enough, was their perceived Achilles heel over the summer and into training camp.
Three goaltenders have stood between the pipes this season, and all three have won a game. This is not something many teams across the NHL can say in 2020. Despite one of them, Matiss Kivlenieks, only appearing twice and only coming up due to injuries, the other two have had long stretches of success after a bit of adversity.
Joonas Korpisalo was the Blue Jackets' No. 1 goaltender to start the season, as declared by head coach John Tortorella (and rightly so). Korpisalo had shown flashes of brilliance over the prior few seasons while serving as the backup to Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year, $70 million deal with the Florida Panthers on July 1.
This season started with a bit of adversity for Korpisalo but he came out the other side as an All-Star for the first time, showing he has the mental capacity to face adversity and still play at a top level. Despite being out since Dec. 29 with a knee injury, one that forced him to miss the All-Star weekend in St. Louis, Korpisalo still sits at 14th in the league in wins with 17.
Behind him, or beside him depending on how you look at the current situation, is Elvis Merzlikins. It took Merzlikins until his ninth start of the season to register a win. And by now, we know what he's been able to do since taking over the net.
Elvis Merzlikins in his last seven games— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) February 5, 2020
Oh, and head-to-head wins against Vezina winners Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky. #CBJ pic.twitter.com/Arig6fnlt0
This forced Korpisalo to carry all the weight and made for a huge question mark when he went down with an injury. Many had written the Blue Jackets' season off when that happened, but since that pivotal juncture, Merzlikins has gone 11-2-0 with four shutouts to his name and now owns the NHL's best save percentage (.929).
This has brought him up to 11-6-4 on the season and he's won his last seven starts. All eyes will be on the Blue Jackets once Korpisalo is cleared to play to see how Tortorella handles this precarious situation; while unfortunate that Korpisalo was hurt, how can he take Merzlikins out of the starting role now? The Blue Jackets are the NHL's hottest team and are riding this incredible run of goaltending to vault their way up the Eastern Conference standings.
While the pay is good for NHL head coaches, sometimes, the decisions are excruciating. This might be one of those.
Heading into the final 28 games of the season, the Blue Jackets find themselves in third in the Metropolitan Division and there are plenty of tough games ahead – especially against division rivals. Should their strong play continue, Merzlikins and Korpisalo are going to be worth their weight in gold, and the Jackets must continue to follow their current recipe if they have designs on going back to the playoffs this April.
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