Joonas Korpisalo returned from his torn meniscus on February 24th. Scheduled to back up Elvis Merzlikins, he was forced into duty as Elvis was knocked out. In his first five games back (including that Ottawa game), Korpisalo is 2-2-1, allowing 14 goals and posting two games below a .900 save percentage. Elvis Merzlikins returned from his upper body injury on Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks. Elvis allowed just one goal, posting a .963 save percentage in his first game back.
For the season, Korpisalo is 19-12-5 on the season with a 2.60 goals against average and a .911 save pecercentage. Elvis Merzlikins, meanwhile, is 13-9-8 with a 2.35 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Both are restricted free agents after the season.
However the Jackets decide to proceed this summer, this final stretch will be critical in informing the team’s decision making process.
This is the first time all season that both goaltenders have been healthy and in rhythm. Korpisalo got the bulk of the work early in the year as Merzlikins adjusted to North American ice, and he held the fort down before getting hot in December; in December, Korpisalo went 6-2-3 with a .932 save percentage and a 1.94 goals against average as he was named to the All Star Game before he unfortunately tore his meniscus in a shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Elvis Merzlikins struggled mightily to open the season before being forced into the number one spot due to Korpisalo’s injury. In the month of January, with the team counting on him, Merzlikins posted an 8-2-0 record with a .948 save percentage and a 1.72 goals against average.
Now, with both goaltenders healthy, how should the team proceed? Truth be told, we have no idea how the coaching staff will proceed. The team has called Korpisalo the “#1 goaltender” all season, but Elvis has clearly earned a significant share of the starts. The old sports adage says that you cannot lose your spot due to injury, but you can lose it to the other guy coming in and being really good (call it the Tom Brady Rule, if you want).
With both goalies sure to demand significant raises this summer, the coaching staff and front office must use this final stretch to see what they have in each goaltender. As discussed on the Cannon Cast this week, both Pale Dragon and myself would like to see Elvis get the start against the Penguins this week. After that? Start them each 50% of the games remaining if you want. The point should be to see how each goalie performs in a variety of situations against a variety of teams. The Jackets, cap crunched this summer with the impending of extensions Pierre-Luc Dubois, Devin Shore, Ryan MacInnis, Kevin Stenlund, Jakob Lilja, Vladislav Gavrikov, and Gabriel Carlsson (woof that’s a lot), the team may be forced to trade one of the goaltenders. As such, it will be imperative to make one of the biggest decisions in years for the franchise with as much information as possible at hand.
What do you want to see from the crease the rest of the way?