At the start of the 2019-20 season, Cleveland Monsters head coach MIke Eaves alternated starts for Matiss Kivlenieks and Veini Vehvialainen. Since the AHL is a development league for the NHL, Eaves felt having both goalies alternate as starters would improve their confidence and skill. Plus, alternating starts gave the tandem much needed breaks during back-to-backs or the dreaded three games in under 72 hours.
As the season drew on, Kivlenieks shone slightly brighter than Vehvilainen. Starting duties were still alternated but Kivlenieks seemed to have a better grasp of the game as it unfolded. He was able to handle whatever was thrown his way. Also, Kivlenieks learned to communicate with his teammates a bit more allowing the defense to know where they should and should not stand while trying to prevent goals.
The Jackets called up Kivlenieks a handful of times in November of 2019 but didn’t play in a single game. When Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury in December the Jackets immediately called Kivlenieks up to play backup for Elvis Merzlikins. The few times Kivlenieks started for the Jackets we could see glimpses of what makes him a dependable backup. After not playing for a few games, he was able to shake most of the rust off of his skates and get to work. Now, some of these games didn’t go as expected for the Jackets but Kivlenieks showed great promise whenever he stepped foot on the ice.
The Monsters would see Kivlenieks a mere five times after his call-up.
Matiss Kivlenieks 2019-20 Stats
Games played : 20
Record : 9-8-3
Save Percentage : .904
Goals against average : 2.96
Games played/started : 6/4
Record : 1-1-0
Save Percentage : .898
Goals against average : 2.95
Despite Elvis Merzlikins going down with an injury, Kivlenieks didn’t see a single minute of ice time during playoffs. However, the Jackets felt he was a reliable backup netminder to take to the bubble.
Kivlenieks is set to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this fall. Over the past few seasons, he has grown into a reliable starting goaltender at the minor league level and a backup at the major level.
Even though the Jackets organization is lush with goalies, they should sign Kivlenieks to a one or two-year deal sans a no trade or no movement clause. He is a great tool to use when there is an injury in Columbus and could be used as trade bait for teams lacking depth in the goaltender department.
The highlight of the season came on January 19th, 2020 when Kivlenieks earned his first NHL win during his first NHL game.
Also of note, when starting, Kivlenieks played all three periods and then some.
On December 7th, 2019, Kivlenieks let in seven goals on 25 shots against the Belleville Senators. This is likely a game the Monsters, as a whole, will want to forget since no one played well.
How would you grade Matiss Kivlenieks this season?
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