Improved Play: Elvis Merzlikins Is Back To Giving His Team A Chance To Win Most Nights

By Will Chase on November 27, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets' Elvis Merzlikins celebrates the Columbus Blue Jackets win over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

A difference maker.

Elvis Merzlikins needed a better season after last year's miserable campaign.

Between the injuries, ailments, and poor play in the crease in 2022-23, Merzlikins has been significantly better in 2023-24 under first-year head coach Pascal Vincent and new goaltender coach Niklas Backstrom.

This season, Merzlikins is 5-7-3 with a 3.11 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. On the surface, pedestrian numbers by most measures. But wouldn't you take that if you were trying to predict stats by Thanksgiving after Merzlikins was one of the statistically worst goaltenders a year ago?

Merzlikins had his best game of the season on Black Friday in a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. All the scoring completed by the first 20 minutes, Merzlikins stopped 32 consecutive shots over the final two periods, including a 20-save third period for a 37-save night, winning first star of the night honors.

The bend and try not to break issue that's been a theme all season was no different in that game. New Jersey had an 18-0 shot attempts difference at one point, but the Devils' onslaught was no match for Merzlikins.

Adding to the impressiveness of Friday's win was the Jackets' third-ranked penalty kill unit stopping the Devils' first-ranked power play twice. Since then, Columbus is second in the league on the kill (88.9%).

There have been what feels like countless games of Merzlikins standing on his head in the third period and then allowing the one critical goal.

It happened against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Outshot 17-3 in the final period, the Rangers tied the game with 11 seconds left and won in a shootout.

Four nights later against the Arizona Coyotes, Merzlikins allowed two third-period goals 28 seconds apart in a 3-2 loss. The tying goal was on the power play, breaking a streak of 23 straight kills over a 10-game stretch.

In that game, the Blue Jackets outshot Arizona 17-8 in the third period, but the loss was part of a string of nine straight losses, and that Coyotes loss was the sixth straight loss in which Columbus blew a lead.

For all the Blue Jackets problems this year, goaltending hasn't been part of that equation. Bad games, defensive lapses, and turnovers that have led to goals are problems that have plagued this team, but Merzlikins has been part of the goaltending tandem with Spencer Martin that has given the Blue Jackets a chance to win most nights.

On Sunday, the Blue Jackets lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, yet again, featuring a game and third period in which the Jackets were heavily outshot. Merzlikins made 40 saves in the effort, including two on the penalty kill. However, in this game, Columbus scored the first two goals of the game in the third before Carolina broke the dam.

Among goaltenders to play at least nine games in November, Merzlikins is third with a .913 SV% for the month, and he's fourth with a 3.10 GAA.

The Blue Jackets battle the Boston Bruins on Monday night at Nationwide Arena at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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