Last week, we took a look at some of the best individual games to come out of the Blue Jackets roster last season, but there was one position conspicuously absent: goaltenders!
So, let’s give the Columbus netminders their due.
Using Evolving Hockey’s “Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx)” measure, we can evaluate how many goals against Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins prevented based on the shot quality they faced and how many goals were expected to be scored.
Let’s take a deeper look at the top 5:
Top Individual performances by Columbus goaltenders in 2019-20:
1. Joonas Korpisalo | Dec. 16 vs Washington | GSAx: 3.11
It feels right that this game ranks highest on the list.
You may remember this one: The Blue Jackets were back in town on the heels of a disastrous two-game stretch that left John Tortorella with “no words to describe” an overtime loss in Pittsburgh followed by another overtime loss in Ottawa that also cost an already depleted roster Sonny Milano, Josh Anderson, and Ryan Murray (all three were injured in-game). There was no way Columbus could beat Washington, right? Well Korpisalo had thoughts on that. He shut out the Capitals and started a five-game win streak that was perhaps an impetus to the team getting back in the postseason conversation after being almost left for dead.
2. Elvis Merzlikins | Jan. 18 vs New Jersey | GSAx: 3.1
When Elvis finally took over the net for an injured Korpisalo, he did so in an impressive way including a four-game stretch that included three shutouts, this game being the last of those. The Blue Jackets would score five goals, too.
3. Elvis Merzlikins | Jan. 14 vs. Boston | GSAx: 2.79
Tortorella loves “key plays at key times” and boy, was this game one of those for Merzlikins. Eight starters out, and the Bruins came to Columbus looking to avenge a home loss to the Blue Jackets and Merzlikins just 12 days earlier. Elvis wasn’t going to give Boston what they wanted, though. He turned away all 34 shots he faced in a game where his team was outshot, to win the second of what would be a six-game win streak.
4. Joonas Korpisalo | Dec. 27 at Washington | GSAx: 2.61
Could Korpisalo be a Capitals killer? While his win over Washington at home was the most impressive numerically, the first meeting between the two teams was no slouch either. Washington fired 39 pucks at Korpisalo, including six off the stick of Alex Ovechkin, and only two got to the back of the net.
5. Elvis Merzlikins | Jan. 11 at Las Vegas | GSAx: 2.49
There was no more perfect story last season than a goaltender named Elvis going into Las Vegas and getting the first shutout of his NHL career, so it’s fitting that this game makes the top five overall performances. The energy built and built as time ticked on through what wasn’t one of Columbus’ most amazing games, but when the clock hit zero, Merzlikins' stick had become a guitar and the celebration was on. This was the first of that four-game stretch where only one game saw an opponent score against the Blue Jackets.
Other top 10 performances:
6. Joonas Korpisalo | Nov. 25 vs Ottawa | GSAx: 2.02
The first shutout of Korpisalo’s season was key as the Blue Jackets could muster just one goal for, but Korpisalo made sure the team went to bed with a win.
7. Elvis Merzlikins | Feb. 4 vs Florida | GSAx: 1.76
Another game, another shutout. This one marked the fourth of Merzlikins career and he’d back it up the next game with a shutout against Detroit.
8. Joonas Korpisalo | Dec. 12 at Pittsburgh | GSAx: 1.59
No wonder this loss hurt so much! It was one of Korpisalo’s best games of the season (and one of the worst by the team in front of him).
9. Elvis Merzlikins | Oct. 30 vs Edmonton | GSAx: 1.55
There was a reason analysts were saying to ignore Merzlikins’ early record, and it’s because of games like this. One of the best of the season by a Columbus goaltender (who entered the game in relief of Korpisalo) and the Jackets scored just one goal in a 4-1 loss (which makes the fact that Merzlikins prevented MORE than he should have even more impressive).
10. Elvis Merzlikins | Jan. 6 at Los Angeles | GSAx: 1.44
Last season’s Los Angeles team wasn’t as dangerous as it had been in other years, but Merzlikins still earned his paycheck that night. Columbus had just 24 shots on goal while the Kings put up 37 and Merzlikins turned away all but two.
Overall, Korpisalo and Merzlikins put up some big games for their team last season, with Merzlikins making one more appearance (6) in the top 10 than his fellow netminder.
And the two will need to continue to do so as the Blue Jackets ideally shift back to a less defense-intensive strategy next season. The protection the team in front of the net gave their goaltenders is noteworthy as Columbus ranked as one of the top teams in terms of preventing opponents’ offense and still compared to all NHL goaltenders last season who played 20 games or more, Merzlikins (.013 GSAx / game, 25th overall) and Korpisalo (-.24 GSAx / game, 46th overall) ranked outside the top 20 goaltenders.
But Columbus does now know it can trust these two to backstop the team, and, if last season is any indication, more memorable performances lie ahead.