Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins has a tremendous opportunity heading into 2020: Joonas Korpisalo, the team’s regular starter this season, is expected to miss multiple weeks after he suffered a knee injury during the team’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.
The injury gives Merzlikins, a rookie with just 10 NHL games under his belt, a chance to help guide the Blue Jackets into playoff position at the start of the season’s stretch run. With that chance, though, comes added pressure. The 25-year-old on Monday described that pressure and asked reporters covering the team to effectively leave him alone while he focuses on performing at his best.
Merzlikins implied that he had discussed this matter with Columbus’ coaching staff and front-office management before making the request and expressed regret that his goaltending partner, Korpisalo, had a longer-term injury befall him in the middle of an All-Star caliber season.
“We end up with the result that I would like to ask you guys all to leave me alone,” Merzlikins said. “I want to just focus. I just want to focus on my moment.”
Columbus originally drafted Merzlikins in the third round of the 2014 NHL draft, but the Latvia native opted to remain in Europe until this season. He suggested that when he played for his last club — HC Lugano, which he played for in Switzerland’s top league from 2013-19 — he did not speak to media during the playoffs so he could focus on “the goalie’s world.”
“There is a lot of maybe pressure on me. That is just another pressure on me. I don’t want it,” Merzlikins said. “I have nine losses if I’m not wrong. This is my moment. I want to just try and focus in it. Try to play my game and try to get finally in my skin and feel myself. I’m just going to ask you guys to leave me alone for now.”
Merzlikins (0-4-4) has yet to record a win in his eight NHL starts this season. He owns a .889 save percentage and 3.41 goals against average — Korpisalo (17-10-4), by comparison, owns a .913 save percentage and 2.49 goals against average between the pipes for the Bue Jackets.
The Latvian’s first chance to take charge as his team’s new starter comes at home on New Year’s Eve against the Florida Panthers. Through Dec. 29, the Blue Jackets (17-14-8, 42 points) remain six points out of playoff position in the East, with four teams between them and the conference’s second wild card spot.