It was just over two weeks ago that the Goalie News covered the first win of Elvis Merzlikins’ NHL career. Now, we’ll talk about him as the hottest goalie on the planet. Plus, the Minnesota Wild got a shutout, but not from the usual source.
Merzlikins is Unbeatable
When Joonas Korpisalo suffered a serious injury, there was genuine concern that it would be a fatal blow to the Columbus Blue Jackets. But with the way Merzlikins has been playing lately, there’s now some question who the starter will be when Korpisalo returns. In Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils, he posted yet another shutout and looked incredibly good while doing it.
The Devils peppered Merzlikins with 41 shots, including five on the power play in three opportunities, but the Latvian netminder stopped them all. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Devils mustered 11 high danger chances and 3.29 expected goals (xG), a very impressive number, and yet they could not score. That’s what happens when you’re facing one of the hottest goalkeepers on the planet.
That is precisely what Merzlikins has been of late. In his last four starts, he has three shutouts, and he’s allowed just two goals on 136 shots for a save percentage (SV%) of .985. That brings his SV% on the season up to .928, and he’s generated 11.06 goals saved above average (GSAA), a metric measuring him favorably against his peers.
He has been a breath of fresh air to the Blue Jackets, who have now won eight of their last 10 games, with only two losses, each against the San Jose Sharks. Merzlikins is a lock for an NHL star of the week, but, more importantly, he has given Columbus a bright future in net.
Unlike the Blue Jackets, the Wild have been searching high and low for decent goaltending and have come up empty. They are in the bottom five in the NHL by team SV%, and neither Devan Dubnyk (who recently reached his 500th game) or Alex Stalock has provided them much relief. But on Saturday, Stalock took a big step in the right direction.
Stalock made 27 saves in a shutout effort against the Dallas Stars, who have lost three of their last four games. They created just four high danger chances and 1.7 xG, so Stalock didn’t have the hardest evening of work. But for a goalie that entered the day with a .903 SV% and a 2.96 goals-against average (GAA), a shutout is never to be taken for granted.
Even with the strong performance, the Wild are still struggling. They are at the bottom of the Central Division, and their goaltending is a big part of the reason why. Could they look for an external solution? With the New York Rangers potentially moving Alexander Georgiev, any team in need of help between the pipes should be in the hunt.
Ullmark Drops Jaws
Much like Korpisalo had in Columbus before his injury, Linus Ullmark has emerged into a true number one goalie for the Buffalo Sabres. They still have a promising prospect in Ukko-Pekka Luukonen coming in the future, but for now, Ullmark gives them hope. And he proved why on Saturday against the Nashville Predators.
The diving save across the face of an empty net is spectacular. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to propel the Sabres to victory. They lost 2-1 off Craig Smith’s late third-period power play goal. While Buffalo may still be well outside a playoff spot, it’s hardly Ullmark’s fault. Whatever they build for the future, there’s little doubt that he’ll be guarding the net.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.