The Columbus Blue Jackets added another win to their total, as they advanced to 25-16-8 on the season with a 5-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Elvis Merzlikins, who has been forced into action because of a Joonas Korpisalo injury, has been spectacular as the full-time option for the Blue Jackets. He earned his third shutout in four games, as Merzlikins stopped all 41 shots sent in his direction.
The Blue Jackets are going to have a tough decision to make when Korpisalo is back, but as it stands now, it would be impossible to sit him down as the backup. The most likely scenario will be that the Blue Jackets will split the starting duties and go with whoever is hotter. Right now, the Blue Jackets will continue to ride the hot hand of Merzlikins.
On a back-to-back, though, and Merzlikins getting a huge workload recently, John Tortorella may opt to give Matiss Kivlenieks his first career NHL start. He’s been waiting and waiting, but Merzlikins has been so good that Kivlenieks had not gotten the call thus far. This looks like it would be the right spot to give Kivlenieks a shot on Sunday. Thanks to the hot surge between the pipes, the Blue Jackets are playing like a playoff team despite having to deal with offseason departures and injuries in 2019-20.
Their record of 25-16-8 and 58 points would suggest that the Jackets haven’t had to deal with any adversity. It will be a difficult road down the stretch for Columbus, though. Do we expect Merzlikins to continue to play this well? Perhaps the bye week during All-Star festivities bumps him out of his groove. But if they’re going to go to the playoffs, hot goaltending must be imperative. The offence led by Artemi Panarin isn’t here any longer, so it’s up to the Jackets to make plays on the other end of the ice.
Panarin will play against his former team for the second time in his career. The first went his way, as the Rangers edged the Blue Jackets out for a 3-2 win in Columbus in December. Panarin was able to score the 3rd and game-winning goal for the Rangers in that contest. The Blue Jackets weren’t willing to pay what the Rangers were offering, and here we are with Panarin a regular at Madison Square Garden. Head below for our free Blue Jackets vs. Rangers pick.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. N.Y. Rangers Betting Odds:
Blue Jackets vs. Rangers Prediction:
It’s been all Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins for the Blue Jackets this season. Most of their 25 wins can be traced back to standout goaltending between the pipes for the Blue Jackets. A hot goaltender in the playoffs helps a lot, but in this era of the NHL, the offence will have to follow at some point. They’ve played well in that regard recently, with 3.1 goals per game and the return of Cam Atkinson to the lineup certainly helps the offensive output. Overall, though, the Blue Jackets have largely been hit and miss offensively. They are 24th in the NHL with 2.69 goals scored per game.
The Jackets haven’t needed much offence of late, though. Defensively they’ve yielded just 1.5 goals per contest in their last ten outings. Merzlikins is mostly responsible for getting the Blue Jackets to that point. Since taking over for Korpisalo, he’s taken his GAA all the way down from 3.00+ to 2.36 as we head into Sunday. Along with three shutouts in his previous four showings, Merzlikins hasn’t allowed more than 2 goals since January 9th against the Sharks.
After this tremendous stretch, he should have earned a break on a back-to-back today. If Tortorella goes in that direction, Kivlenieks is likely getting his first start in the NHL. As a minor leaguer with the Cleveland Monsters, Kivlenieks has posted a 3.04 GAA and 0.896 save percentage in 16 games. That would be a serious drop off from Merzlikins in the crease. Kivlenieks would have a tricky matchup on the road against a Rangers’ offence who have gotten their offence going of late.
The Rangers have netted 4.1 goals per game in their last ten outings, and will be at MSG in this matchup where they’ve been comfortable. They are 6th in the NHL in scoring with 3.37 goals per game. That figure jumps up to 3.65 goals per game at home in NYC. Expect the Rangers to be able to get their offence going to an extent against a Blue Jackets club playing on a back-to-back. This appears like a perfect letdown spot for them on Sunday night in New York following the best game of Merzlikins’ young career.