Elvis Merzlikins Is Cementing His Place As One Of The NHL's Top Goaltenders, Despite Personal Tragedy

By Jacob Nitzberg on October 27, 2021 at 3:33 pm
Oct 21, 2021; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) stretches before playing against the New York Islanders at Nationwide Arena.
Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports

This summer, the Blue Jackets made a five-year, $27 million commitment to Elvis Merzlikins.

Through four starts this season, it looks like he'll be worth every penny, and more. 

Merzlikins, 27, is 4-0-0 this season with a .952 save percentage and 1.47 goals-allowed average. Among NHL goalies who have played three or more games, Merzlikins ranks first in save percentage, first in goals-allowed average, and is second in wins behind Frederik Anderson and Cam Talbot, who are both 5-0-0.

After the tragic passing of Matiss Kivlenieks over the summer, Merzlikins was adamant that he plans to win the Vezina Trophy in honor of his late friend.

"I don't want to make any promises, but I can tell you...my plan is to win a Vezina Trophy," Merzlikins told The Athletic in early September. "I'm gonna win a f---ing Vezina for (Kivlenieks). We can't make promises because this is hockey and we don't know how the season can go, but this is my goal. I believe I'm going to reach it."

In his rookie year, Merzlikins went 13-9-8 with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, which saw him finish fifth in Vezina voting.

"I’m going all-in for the Vezina," said Merzlikins. "That’s my plan. I worked my ass off all summer long, to get stronger, to get ready for the season, to prepare myself. I’m not going to let anything get in my way to destroy my goal, my dream."

Any NHL season will have its share of challenges, and the death of a close friend and teammate is certainly one that Merzlikins wasn't anticipating. As he uses Kivlenieks' memory to spur him forward, Monday night was a reminder that Kivlenieks is still with him. 

As Merzlikins led the Blue Jackets out of the tunnel onto the ice at Nationwide Arena for pregame warmups, a fan in a Dallas Stars jersey taunted Merzlikins about the death of Kivlenieks.

"I was expecting a shutout because I believe in karma,” said Merzlikins after the Blue Jackets' 4-1 win. “There are some stupid people in this world. It was really bad what happened in the tunnel when I was walking out. There was a fan from Dallas who (taunted) me about Matiss."

Merzlikins used the taunt to motivate him, as he stopped 31 of 32 shots. He didn't get the shutout but still turned in a masterful performance. In his career, Merzlikins is 25-21-13 with a 2.46 GAA and .922 save percentage. After a rocky start to his rookie campaign, his career numbers seem to improve every time he plays.

As the Blue Jackets' season progresses, they're going to need Merzlikins to be their steady hand, especially because injuries to the blue line have already begun to mount. Adam Boqvist is day-to-day with a nagging injury, and Dean Kukan will miss eight weeks with a broken wrist. Merzlikins can certainly handle it, though. 

After all, he's going to win the f---ing Vezina.