One guy has clearly, vastly outplayed the other…
As Merzlikins struggles, so do the Blue Jackets. The team sits with a 3-4-0 record through 7 games, which doesn’t look too bad on paper. But consider the fact that only two teams in the entire NHL have scored more goals than the Blue Jackets (Pittsburgh and the LA Kings); yet they find themselves with a sub-.500 record, and a -5 goal differential … even after a blowout win on Sunday.
But the thing about a goaltending controversy, is that you need a second quality goaltender to make it a controversy. Enter Daniil Tarasov. He was excellent on Sunday, stopping 30 of 31 shots, leading the team to victory for the first time in his young career. His stat line through 3 starts looks pretty good – 1-2-0 with a 91.2% save percentage and 3.33GAA. It’s not like he’s had the easy matchups either; his games have been against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and the New York Rangers.
Compare that to Elvis, through 4 games: 2-2-0, 86.4%, 4.19GAA. His expected goals against is 11.5 through his 4 starts, yet he’s surrendered 17 goals; earning him the third-worst differential in that category in the entire NHL. That’s far from ideal from the guy who is paid and played like a starter in this league.
While it’s still very early in the season, the early returns on goaltending are obvious. With the way the NHL schedule works out, you have to win every game you can if you’re going to have a chance to make the playoffs. So for the time being, yes, maybe there is a controversy between the pipes in Columbus. One guy has clearly, vastly outplayed the other, and in my opinion deserves the net until proven otherwise.
Such an outcome may be just the kick in the pants Elvis needs to get his season heading in the right direction. We’ve seen him steal the spotlight before, many times. He’s a streaky goalie who is elite when he’s hot, and very average when he isn’t. When he’s cold, he’s amongst the worst in the league, and that isn’t really debatable. Maybe he’s just cold right now and needs to reset, find his game, and regain confidence. Sometimes a few nights off can help.
Imagine how much different the standings might look if this team has surrendered 5 fewer goals to this point. I don’t think they would have won every game, not by far … but it’s possible that they would be a .500 team or maybe even above. At least in that case, we might look back more favorably on some closer losses, and have a better sense of this team’s actual overall play, which really hasn’t been too bad.
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I would imagine that Tarasov sees at least the next start for the club, tomorrow night hosting the Arizona Coyotes. While you can’t call an out of conference game in October a must win; this one feels like a game the Blue Jackets should not only win, but win handily. It would not be surprising to see Brad Larsen roll with the hot hand, and give Tarasov a chance to run with the team after a big win on Sunday.
Lastly, what will they do when Joonas Korpisalo eventually takes to the ice? Tarasov is undoubtedly the future of this team, but with Merzlikins signed to four years after this one at a $5.4m AAV, it’s hard to see him taking over the reins this soon. Korpisalo is signed through this season as the backup; as the team looks to give Tarasov more playing time to develop.
But if he’s the best guy they have now, what are you saying to the team if you demote him? It’s a tough situation, and it’s going to be really interesting to see how things play out.