When Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury last month, there was a collective gasp from fans. The team had already been dealing, and still is, with numerous injuries up and down their roster. It was only a matter of time before the injury bug bit the team’s starting goalie.
Next up was second-string netminder and rookie, Elvis Merzlikins. His woes have been well-documented this season so far. His NHL debut against the Penguins saw him allow seven goals, and that was against a Pittsburgh roster that didn’t have Malkin or Crosby at the time. He proceeded to not win at the NHL level, then got sent down to Cleveland only to not win there. Once Korpisalo headed to IR, however, there was no choice in that Columbus had to make him their #1.
How would the young European-trained goalie do in Korpi’s absence?
The Latvian has been nothing short of a rock star, earning his very first NHL victory on New Year’s Eve. He’s won another four games since then, even recording his first NHL shutout this past Saturday against a very impressive Golden Knights squad. At this point, no one should be questioning if he is able to rise to the equation.
So while the team fielded a barrage of criticism and worry prior to the start of the 19-20 season, the past few months have taken an interesting twist. What was the focus of greatest concern has become, arguably, the team’s greatest strength. Now the Columbus Blue Jackets have a dilemma of how to split playing time between the two goalies once Korpisalo comes back from his torn meniscus.
It was an easy decision for head coach John Tortorella to make previously. Korpi was solid and Merzlikins struggled. Now you have two men of seemingly equal talent that will need to share the load in the near future. Granted, Korpisalo has about another three weeks to go before he returns, give or take. That will be here before you know it and while Merzlikins will revert back to the #2 spot, he will most certainly shoulder more of the load than he had in October, November and early to mid-December.
The question is how does Tortorella split those duties?
Don’t get me wrong, that is a great problem to have when both of your goalies turn into puck vacuums. Still, it will be no small task to find a balance that keeps both players happy, especially Korpisalo since he has earned and should retain the starting role.
Two very capable goalies? Check.
Good defense? Check.
I’m not thinking Stanley Cup for the team this year, but if that offense can find its catalyst, well look out, league. This franchise would leap-frog from wild card seekers to division contenders. Until then, sit back, relax and watch Elvis continue to propel his game in the crease.