The Blue Jackets Will Rely on A Goaltending Tandem This Season, Per Head Coach John Tortorella

By Jacob Nitzberg on January 5, 2021 at 8:18 am
Aug 6, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (70) heads for the bench as he is replaced by goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) during the second period against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference qualifications at Scotiabank Arena.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella isn't one to mince his words.

When he says something will happen, you should expect it's going to happen.

In his media availability on Monday, Tortorella noted that the crunched schedule will lead the Blue Jackets to use a goaltending tandem. This was to be expected, to some degree, after the success of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins last season, but in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tortorella leaned heavily in favor of Korpisalo as the starter. 

"It's gonna be a goaltending tandem. It's gonna have to be," said Tortorella. "You need both in an 82-game schedule, but more so in a 56 (game schedule)." 

Last year, the Blue Jackets played 70 games. Korpisalo appeared in 37 with 35 starts and Merzlikins appeared in 33 with 31 starts. Merzlikins was clearly the better goaltender in the regular season, and he really came into his own after Korpisalo's torn meniscus in December of 2019.

Goaltending Stats from 2019-20 Regular Season GP GS W L OT SV% GAA
Joonas Korpisalo 37 35 19 12 5 .911 2.60
Elvis Merzlikins 33 31 13 9 8 .923 2.35

In the playoffs, Korpisalo found another gear. Who could forget his 85-save performance against Tampa Bay in Game 1 of the ECQF?

Goaltending Stats from 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs GP GS W L SV% GAA
Joonas Korpisalo 9 9 3 5 .941 1.90
Elvis Merzlikins 2 1 1 1 .946 1.96

The Blue Jackets are fortunate enough to have two NHL-starter caliber goalies, and it looks like they'll each get an even share of the load this year. Merzlikins was more impressive last year, overall, but Korpisalo showed that he can certainly hold his own as well. If both goalies can replicate their results from last season, the Blue Jackets should be in good hands. 

Their defensive depth isn't as impressive this year, so Merzlikins and Korpisalo may have more work cut out for them than before after the departures of Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray. Tortorella's system, which has worked well for the Blue Jackets in the past, will need to succeed again for the Blue Jackets to remain afloat. That means blocking shots and passing lanes like your life depends on it. If all you give up is low-percentage shots, you will be more successful than a team who allows less shots, but higher-quality shots. This is the Blue Jackets' path to success this season.