Blue Jackets’ Merzlikins Still Believes They Are a Playoff Team

The Boston Bruins came into Nationwide Arena Friday night and showed the hockey world why they are still a force to be reckoned with. They even did it while two of their best players were out of the lineup.

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Both Brad Marchand and David Krejci did not play against the Blue Jackets but that didn’t stop the Bruins from doing whatever they wanted on the ice. Their 4-0 win helped them get off to one of their best starts in franchise history. They lead the Eastern Conference in the early going by six points over the Flyers and Devils as play on Saturday began.

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While things are going as well as they could for the Bruins, the opposite could be said for the Blue Jackets. With the loss, they drop to 3-6-0 on the season and sit in last place by themselves in the Eastern Conference. Defense and goaltending remain a constant issue for this team.

Even despite the recent on-ice performances, goaltender Elvis Merzlikins still believes in this team. He believes in them so much that he thinks they are a playoff team now. Clearly dismayed at their recent games, he opened up postgame about his belief in the Blue Jackets.

Merzlikins Opens Up

“I got mad. Really mad,” Merzlikins said. “Because you know, the feeling when you are playing in your own building and your fans are booing you? I get it. We deserve it. But it’s not a nice feeling. It’s not a really nice feeling. But again, we deserve it, the booing.”

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It’s clear that everyone involved is frustrated. The Blue Jackets have now gone nine games into the season and not scored one power-play goal. Meanwhile the Arizona Coyotes, a team many thought would lose a lot of games this season because of their bare roster, has eight power-play goals. In fact, the Blue Jackets are 0/23 on the season with the man advantage and have been outscored 2-0 while up a man.

The 2-0 goal Friday night was a shorthanded goal by Charlie Coyle which seemed to take the air out of the Blue Jackets. Merzlikins was eventually pulled after the second period when they were down 4-0. Brad Larsen called this a “coach’s decision.” Merzlikins understood what was happening.

“I’m totally good. The team tonight definitely needed a refresh or a restart, whatever you want to call it. We needed it. I’m not even going to blame myself…I thought that I played good today, I do. The fourth goal, it’s on me. I lost mentally. I’m going to be honest.”

Elvis Merzlikins Columbus Blue Jackets
Elvis Merzlikins still believes in this team despite their poor start. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The fact remains that unless there is a complete reversal of fortunes, the Blue Jackets could be staring at a long season with many long nights. Their defense is a complete work in progress and their goaltending has not performed to expectations.

Merzlikins has allowed a staggering 22 goals in 160 shot attempts this season. That translates to a 4.31 goals-against average and an .863 save percentage. For someone who is under contract for the next five years at $5.4 million, there is obvious concern.

Related: Merzlikins Must Start Living Up to His Contract

That didn’t stop Merzlikins from taking it a step further and saying these Blue Jackets are a playoff team now. Here’s what he said.

“But right now, it’s all about us. We need to get out of this together,” Merzlikins said. It’s not about goaltending. It’s not about defensemen. It’s not about forwards. It’s about us, together…We are playing too soft right now. But we are together in this. I’m pretty sure we’re going to get out of this. I hope as soon as possible because then later it’s going to be too late.”

“I believe in my team. I believe we can get to the playoffs. We are a playoff team. If you don’t believe it, it’s up to you. But I do believe in my team. I believe in my guys. I believe in my team again. I know we can play hard and we can play good. We’re going to get to that point.”

The Path Forward

Merzlikins said it best. If the Blue Jackets are going to get out of this funk, they have to do it together as a team. It’s going to take everyone being on the same page and fulfilling the role they are asked to play.

It starts with being simple. Take care of your own end and manage the puck better. All too often even the simplest of passes could not be completed. This is a sure sign of a team struggling with their confidence. They need good things to happen and then build off it.

Their next game is Sunday afternoon in New Jersey before they make their way to Finland to play in the Global Series against the Colorado Avalanche. Things are not going to change overnight. But progress can be made by executing the game plan and keeping things simple. Here are three things the Blue Jackets must do in order to right the ship.

  • Special teams need to work to their advantage. The talent is there. Now make it happen.
  • They need to be harder to play against. Make a hit. Block a shot. Get engaged in the game. The energy from little things can create something bigger.
  • Make a save. Every game has its big moments usually tied to a save or lack thereof. One of the best way to exude confidence is for your goaltender to make a big save in a key moment.

Need to See Progress

Ultimately, these Blue Jackets may or may not make the playoffs despite what was said by Merzlikins. But they will be judged as an organization based on the overall progress made. So far in nine games, it looks like they’ve stepped back and not forward.

If Merzlikins believes this is a playoff team, they need to starting acting the part. No one is excluded from being held accountable. They set the standard as being a playoff team in the preseason. Being in last place is unacceptable given the standard they set.

Elvis Merzlikins Columbus Blue Jackets
Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets will be judged on progress made this season. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The goaltending needs to make saves. The defense needs to be harder to play against. The forwards need to play 200 feet and show a commitment to keeping the puck out of their net. Coaching needs to develop a game plan that allows their players to succeed. Management needs to identify who is a part of their future and who isn’t while looking to bring in players that will help them get to their goal.

So far in 2022-23, everyone from top-to-bottom on the team has fell woefully short. But if they are to turn it around, it will take everyone in the locker room to make it happen.

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Their on-ice performances this season speak for themselves. They’re supposed to be better than this. Merzlikins believes that. The team at large believes that. But until they show it on the ice, what the players say are just words.

And actions always speak louder than words.