For a franchise as young as the Columbus Blue Jackets, two events stand out. The first is the death of Brittanie Cecil, a fan who was hit by a deflected puck in 2002, the only fan death in NHL history. The second is the death of Matiss Kivlenieks, the team’s third-string goaltender, who died on July 4th of this year. For a team that has only played 21 seasons, an astounding amount of tragedy has struck them.
The death of Matiss Kivlenieks also greatly impacted Elvis Merzlikins. Easily his closest friend, the two Latvian goaltenders were practically brothers. And one of them had to play his first full-length, 82-game season just three months later.
On the surface, Merz’s performance seems slightly above pedestrian. 3.22 GAA, .907 sv%, 27-23-7 record. His GA%- is exactly 100, which Hockey Reference tells me means that he allowed about as many goals as you can expect. This is backed up by his GSAA being at just 0.56.
But in other ways, he was outstanding. He made 1742 saves in 55 starts, or about 31.5 saves/60 minutes, good enough for 2nd among those with 2500 minutes or more. Only three goalies made more saves this season, and all had significantly more starts than Elvis (Hellebuyck in 66 starts, Saros in 67, and Demko in 61). That type of endurance needs to be appreciated. And the defense wasn’t great in front of him. At all strengths, the Jackets “boasted” the 12th worst shot attempt percentage, 8th worst unblocked SAP, 5th worst expected goals against, 5th worst chance percentage, and 2nd worst high-danger chance percentage. With our defense, it’s a miracle Elvis got to middling.
As if that wasn’t enough, he was doing all of that while grieving an adopted brother. As such, one of Elvis’s biggest moments came after the season, when he opened up about his struggles during the exit interviews. The cannon gave him PTSD. He couldn’t play on New Year’s because of the fireworks. Losing someone is an almost unbearable pain. I’ve been through it with my mom, and I’m sure many of our commenters and readers have as well. But losing someone unexpectantly like he did, in an accident, right before your eyes, seems unimaginable to me.
Games played: 59
Save Percentage: .907
Goals Against/60: 3.22
Goals Saved Above Average: 0.56
Goals Saved Above Expected: 4.0
Merzlikins’s 5 year, $27 Million contract starts next year, meaning he’s locked in until 2027.
Elvis had two shutouts on the year. In November, he put up a 36-save monster against the Winnipeg Jets, a 3-0 win which was a lot less comfortable than the score indicated. In January, he put up a slightly less impressive 31-save shutout in a slightly more impressive 6-0 thumping of the Carolina Hurricanes, eventual Metropolitan Division champions.
Also worth noting is his 56-save effort against the Calgary Flames, which was overshadowed by the 6 goals against. This is tied for the 18th most saves in a regular season game since 1955, and the 4th most in the last 10 years. Less of a “High Point” and more of a “Thing That Occurred”
In the last game before the All Star break, Merzlikins dropped 7 goals on 25 shots in just 40 minutes against the Florida Panthers.
B+. This man had almost no defensive help, was dealing with the loss of his closest friend, and through it all kept his optimistic personality and fun persona. But his his raw numbers still weren’t fantastic, particularly save percentage. Let me know what you’d give him down below.
How would you grade Elvis Merzlikins’ 2021-22 season?
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