John Tortorella Discusses The Difficult Decision Of Playing Joonas Korpisalo Or Elvis Merzlikins In The Qualifying Round

By 1OB Staff on June 18, 2020 at 8:05 am
John Tortorella looks on from behind the bench
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In his weekly radio hit on 97.1 FM alongside Anthony Rothman and Bobby Carpenter, John Tortorella was forthcoming about the conversations he and his staff have had surrounding Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. 

The Blue Jackets are set to square off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the qualification round, and one of the two goaltenders will be on the bench onlooking. So, the million-dollar question. Who will get the first crack at the net?   

"We've talked about it internally. Elvis has played a lot of big games in another rink in another country, playoff games. He's been involved in I think more of that than Korpi in a playoff-type atmosphere, although not in the National Hockey League. But he's played some big games, and he's been involved in some big situations like that. I have to think of that, I have to try to hang my hat on something with the inexperience that we do have with the goalies. 

The experiences Tortorella is referring to is Merzlikins' performances at the IIHF World Championships. Backstopping an overmatched Team Latvia, Merzlikins has put up gaudy numbers in the past, most notably a .937 Sv% in 2017 and a .940 Sv% in 2018. 

Tortorella went on to hedge, saying that Korpisalo's AHL postseason experience and Merzlikins' lack of experience could be a deciding factor:

"Korpi has played in the American league. He was taken out in a playoff series and (Anton) Forsberg just wouldn't give the net back when they won the Calder Cup. So there are things that we have discussed. You certainly think of Elvis in a big game situation and you say, 'that's what he's built for', but the inexperience of it, 'does he blow up because of it'. It's so easy to go down the wrong road when you just think about one certain situation. Jarmo and I have talked about Elvis has played a lot of big game overseas in big tournaments and has probably felt that more than Korpi. But we're still going to let this play out and go about it."

The decision will be applauded if proven successful and scrutinized if he (whoever he is) struggles.  We've written about the conundrum before. In such a short series, choosing the wrong netminder could lead to an unfortunately short series.