Elvis Merzlikins has struggled for the past few seasons. If the Blue Jackets want to improve and compete for a playoff spot, they need Elvis to find his game. Why has his game gotten worse over the last few seasons?
Since his rookie year in 2019-2020, Elvis’ save percentage has declined from 0.923 (2019-2020) to 0.916 (2020-2021) to 0.907 (2021-2022) to 0.876 (2022-2023). Similarly, his goals-against average has increased from 2.35 (2019-2020) to 2.77 (2020-2021) to 3.22 (2021-2022) to 4.23 (2022-2023).
There are multiple factors that have contributed to the decline of Elvis’ game in recent seasons. Three of the biggest factors:
- The loss of Matiss Kivlenieks. Losing a loved one is very difficult. To witness the death of a loved one is even more traumatic. This could devastate even the strongest of people. It’s likely that Elvis is reminded of his friend constantly when coming to the rink, where he shared many memories with Matiss. The grief and pain are major distractions. How can anyone really focus on playing a game when dealing with such pain?
- A less-than-great defense in front of him. The CBJ defense has gotten worse since Elvis’ first season. The team has given up far too many high quality chances. While Elvis has made many spectacular saves, no goalie can stop them all. Elvis has been left out to dry on many occasions, which has led to a decline in his statistics.
- Injury. Elvis has missed some time to injury, especially in the 2022-2023 season. It is difficult to perform at your peak when your body is not at 100%.
Those factors are really a culmination of the biggest factor: Confidence.
It’s textbook psychology. When someone faces adversity and sometimes faces failure, it is not common to overthink everything. Once that person is inside his/her own head, certain things don’t come as naturally to him/her. The same is true in sports. When an athlete overthinks the game and questions aspects of their game, mistakes start to arise. Those mistakes begin to snowball and, if not addressed, the athlete can really lose control of their abilities. But, if the athlete overcomes that adversity, their game starts to come back naturally. The thoughts inside their mind begin to diminish and their talents just allow them to play.
It has become obvious that Elvis’ confidence is shaken. With all the factors listed above, one cannot blame him. Even the greatest goalies would struggle under those conditions. However, all athletes face adversity. Those who thrive are those who overcome the adversity. Elvis must overcome such adversity.
With the additions of Ivan Provorov, Damon Severson, Zach Werenski, and possibly David Jiricek, the CBJ defense should be greatly improved from last season. That should put Elvis in a better position for success. However, the defense is just one part of the equation. All good teams have a goaltender that can make difficult saves and bail out the defense when needed. The CBJ need Elvis to emerge as that goaltender.
Elvis has said all the right things and has emphasized how important this summer is to him, his game, and the success of this team. While the conditioning and practice will help, the biggest improvement will come with time. As he (and the team) secures more wins, his confidence will grow, and the game will slow down for him. Elvis has proven that he has talent and that he can be a good goaltender. Now it is time for him to re-discover that talent; one save at a time.