Look at the Columbus Blue Jackets go. Despite having to deal with a rash of injuries to key players, the Blue Jackets are winning and thriving without them. Elvis Merzlikins put on another show with a 34 save shutout of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. They haven’t been intimidated by the better teams on paper during this run.
The Blue Jackets are winners in six of their last eight games, and have advanced to 23-16-8 on the season. That record doesn’t look like a whole lot, and in the Metropolitan that’s not going to get very far, though they’ve managed to stay afloat despite the injuries. There are a lot of teams who would sink fast without their core intact. Never mind that, there are several teams who would flame out without their starting goaltender.
Merzlikins was in the AHL a season ago behind Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo. He was an afterthought for Blue Jackets’ fans at the time, but they’re well acclimated with him now. The 25-year-old had to wait a while to get a serious look in the NHL. He’s making the most out of his opportunity with Korpisalo out.
It wouldn’t have happened with a healthy Korpisalo, and he wasn’t really playing that well getting spot starts instead of being the consistent option between the pipes. This has allowed him to get into a groove and settle in instead of going and stopping. If Merzlikins keeps this going, the Blue Jackets are going to have a good problem to have when Korpisalo is healthy. There’s no way they could sit him on the bench at his current level of play.
Korpisalo is not going to want to sit on the bench when he comes back, though. He was playing extremely well before he was injured. Like I said, John Tortorella is going to have a good problem to have. Although, Korpisalo may want out if he doesn’t see the crease as a full-time starting netminder.
And trading him for offensive help doesn’t make too much sense right now because Merzlikins has only shown he can be good across a few weeks. Teams will begin noticing him if this carries on, and then the Blue Jackets can figure out something in the offseason. Some scoring help would not hurt in Columbus.
The Blue Jackets are scheduled to get Cam Atkinson back on Thursday night. Atkinson has been lifted from the IR and will report back to the starting lineup. Whether that hurts chemistry on the ice at first remains to be seen, but it could take a period of two for him to shake the rust off.
The Hurricanes are coming off a 2-0 loss against the Capitals, though it was their first loss in four games. They enter Columbus with a comfortable record of 27-17-2 for 4th in the Metropolitan Division. It’s a competitive division and a good team like the Hurricanes have no guarantees for the playoffs right now. Head below for our free Hurricanes vs. Blue Jackets pick.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Columbus Blue Jackets Betting Odds:
Hurricanes vs. Blue Jackets Prediction:
The Hurricanes don’t have any major injuries to report, and it’s actually made it difficult to find room for Justin Williams to find playing time. The longtime Hurricane recently made a splash by announcing his return to the NHL. He stepped away from the NHL in September and didn’t say he was officially retiring. Now, the Hurricanes are attempting to find a role for him on the team. At 38 years old, he isn’t the Williams of old, but he still scored 23 goals and 30 assists in 82 games last season. There can still be a role for him, especially his veteran presence in the locker room.
Carolina have been especially good recently in the defensive zone. Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have both had success in spots. The Hurricanes have allowed just 2 goals in their last three outings, with the Capitals the only team to score a goal. In five of their last seven outings, they’ve yielded 2 or fewer goals. The offence wasn’t there against the Capitals, though the defensive effort was good enough to keep them in the game for three periods. Holding the Capitals to 2 goals isn’t easy, so that was an accomplishment. However, the Hurricanes didn’t even have a point to show for that effort.
Offensively there hasn’t been anything wrong for the Hurricanes this season. That’s why they are finding it hard to get Williams on the ice. The Hurricanes are 12th in the NHL with 3.22 goals scored per game. Not elite, but the key to success down the stretch for them is going to be focusing on improving in the defensive zone, which has been more than competent of late. Really what this game comes down to is how Merlikins performs in the crease.
He’s been hot and is coming off a couple of shutouts. However, two below average offences, the Sharks and Ducks beat him for 3 goals each in each of his two prior outings. He allowed at least 3 goals in three of his previous four games before the shutout. Merzlikins isn’t unbeatable despite his effort against the Golden Knights and Bruins.
The Blue Jackets were winners in both meetings against the Hurricanes back in October. This likely isn’t going to be a runaway game, but the Hurricanes likely play a better game here. Following two gritty 3-0 wins and shutouts, expect a letdown spot for the Blue Jackets. The Canes should be fresh after getting a couple of days off. A 3-2 or 4-2 win for the visitors looks like the final result on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena.