The Columbus Blue Jackets will be looking to bounce back following an uninspiring loss on Friday night against the New York Rangers. Elvis Merzlikins stood out once again for the Blue Jackets, as he stopped 25 of 27 shots, but the offence provided no goal support. If the Blue Jackets are serious about going to the playoffs and competing, they’re going to have to find offence from somewhere.
Depending on Merzlikins to put up a shutout is not going to work in the playoffs. Yes, a hot goalie is part of a deep playoff run, but at some point goals will have to go in the back of the opposing net. The Blue Jackets don’t have the kind of offensive firepower that was in their arsenal last season. It was helpful in upsetting the Lightning in the first-round.
In any event, if the Blue Jackets even get to the playoffs, I think that’s going to be a successful season for John Tortorella. With the talent that his team lost in the offseason, there weren’t too many who saw the Blue Jackets playing this well. Predicting a young goaltender to get as hot as Merzlikins has this season is nearly impossible.
Remember that Merzlikins wasn’t even the No. 2 option for the Blue Jackets last year. Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo were responsible between the pipes then, with Merzlikins awaiting his turn in the big leagues. If Korpisalo didn’t get injured, we likely wouldn’t have found this out about Merzlikins. He was not playing well in relief of Korpisalo, and didn’t get it going until he had the crease to himself. It allowed him to get into a rhythm instead of coming off the bench cool.
The Blue Jackets will be in action against the most disappointing season from the 2019-20 season. A lot was expected of the New Jersey Devils this season, but all they’re going to have to show for it is a spot in the draft lottery. They got lucky to win the Jack Hughes sweepstakes in the past draft lottery, and are going to hope for some more luck in the summer. Thanks to the Taylor Hall deal, the Devils are likely to have two picks in the top-half of the draft.
Alexis Lafreniere is the most coveted player available in the 2020 draft. If the current odds work out, the first overall pick will go to the Red Wings, while the Devils will be selecting fourth. Two high selections in the draft won’t take away the sting of a season that should have been much better for the Devils. Games aren’t played on paper, though, and the roster has been unable to gel. New Jersey enter Sunday with a record of 21-26-10 and 52 points. That’s enough to put them ahead of the Red Wings and Senators, but no further. Head below for our free Blue Jackets vs. Devils pick.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. N.J. Devils Betting Odds:
Blue Jackets vs. Devils Prediction:
The Blue Jackets will have to keep riding Merzlikins until the wheels fall off. What a luxury to have for the Blue Jackets. They have a red-hot Merzlikins, and Korpisalo who was selected as an All-Star this season is in their corner as well. Initially, when Merzlikins was heating up earlier in the season, the idea was to alternate between him and Korpisalo. As long as Merzlikins stays hot, though, they would be better off allowing him to ride this out. If he never slows down, then you might be seeing the Blue Jackets in the playoffs. Merzlikins has been better than expected, as he rides a 2.18 GAA and 0.93 save percentage into Sunday.
The 25-year-old rookie has allowed 2 or fewer goals in nine of his previous eleven outings. He didn’t get into the All-Star Game, but Merzlikins is certainly deserving. If Merzlikins opened the season as the starter and played this week, you have to believe that he would be in Vezina talks at the moment. He’s helped the Blue Jackets get to 2nd in the league with 2.44 goals against per game. In their previous ten games, they’ve allowed only 2 goals per game. The Jackets gave up 2 or fewer goals in seven of those outings.
Columbus and New Jersey have met twice this season, with the Blue Jackets owning the Devils in the defensive zone. Note that the Devils scored just 1 goal, as they were shutout in their most recent meeting on January 18. Merzlikins earned a 41 save shutout, which is one of many superb outings for him in 2019-20. Cam Atkinson found the back of the net twice in that game.
Atkinson will be unavailable for this matchup in Newark, though. He is dealing with an ankle injury that is going to keep him out until perhaps mid-March. That hurts and his absence has helped explain why the offence has been incredibly lifeless recently. The Blue Jackets have scored just 2 goals per in their last ten outings. Alexander Wennberg is also dealing with an injury and will not be playing tonight. In any case, the Blue Jackets should be able to grind this one out with another defensive showing. This looks like a 3-2 or 3-1 game in Newark on Sunday.