The Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets have faced challenges at the goaltender position this season.
The Kings may have found a temporary solution to their problems heading into their matchup at the Blue Jackets on Sunday while Columbus continues to face issues.
The Blue Jackets, who came into Saturday with the second-worst goals-against average in the NHL (4.00) and fourth-worst save percentage (.890), learned on Saturday that Joonas Korpisalo will be out 1-2 weeks with a lower-body injury sustained in a 3-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Friday.
That makes Elvis Merzlikins the clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Columbus, and he’s experiencing his worst season in the NHL, owning a 4.82 GAA and .862 save percentage.
Columbus coach Brad Larsen is confident Merzlikins can hold down the fort.
He allowed just one goal in relief of Korpisalo on Friday after surrendering six against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday while playing a little more than half the game. A night earlier, Merzlikins gave up four goals in a 4-1 loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Elvis was good (Tuesday) in Pittsburgh,” Larsen said. “It didn’t go too well last game (against Buffalo), but that’s the frustrating part for him because I thought, even in Pitt, he was pretty good for us.”
Merzlikins has made three starts against Los Angeles in his career and is 1-1-1 with a 2.63 GAA and .932 save percentage.
The Kings became so impatient with their goaltending situation that they put Cal Petersen on waivers on Dec. 1 and recalled 30-year-old journeyman Pheonix Copley.
Copley has won his first two starts for Los Angeles, including a 20-save performance in a 4-2 win at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.
The win helped erase a miserable performance on Thursday, when the Kings were shut out for the first time this season, 5-0 at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kings coach Todd McLellan said winning the opener of the back-to-back on Saturday won’t make the task any easier on Sunday.
“The energy level, we’re going to have to find some, we’re going to have to play a smart game,” he said. “After the effort in Toronto, the response (against Montreal) was the big thing, and getting the points was the icing on the cake, but we’ve got to put it behind us and get on this plane and be ready to play (Sunday).”
Jonathan Quick will start in goal for Los Angeles and he has performed well against Columbus in his career, owning an 18-8-0 mark in 26 games with a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage.
He’ll need to account for Patrik Laine and Johnny Gaudreau, who have been split up in an effort to find more offensive balance.
Laine has five goals in five games since returning from injury.
“If we can balance out our scoring instead of loading up one line, it really helps us,” Larsen said. “It’s not a punishment. It’s saying, ‘OK, we can balance this out a bit.’ We’ll see where it goes.”
The Kings hope to bottle up the neutral zone against Columbus, something that has become a trademark of their system.
“Anybody who has spent time around us, when we’re playing well, that’s what we do, and we did a horrendous job in Toronto,” McLellan said. “We did a much better job of it (Saturday).”
–Field Level Media