After a rocky debut, rookie goaltender Elvis Merzlikins looked to have settled in as a solid option in net for the Columbus Blue Jackets and head coach John Tortorella. However, the 25-year-old netminder made a costly mistake late in Saturday night’s game that cost the team a much-needed victory.
With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Merzlikins played a puck and cleared it out through the middle of the ice to no player in particular. The puck was immediately picked off by Winnipeg’s Andrew Copp, who fired it right back at the goal and gave the Jets a 4-3 victory.
After the game, Tortorella immediately told the press that if anyone asked a question about his goalie, he would immediately walk out. However, The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (subscription required) suggests that a demotion to the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL is unlikely. The team has another back-to-back next week, which means Merzlikins isn’t likely to go anywhere as this was a judgement mistake, not a lack of experience mistake.
- TribLive’s Seth Rorabaugh reports that the Pittsburgh Penguins may be close to getting Kris Letang back in their lineup. The veteran blueliner, who has been out with an undisclosed injury since Nov. 4, returned to practice on Sunday and participated in the full practice in a full-contact jersey, which might suggest he’s closer to ready than most thought. Head coach Mike Sullivan said he’s hopeful that Letang will be available on Monday at home against Calgary, who had Letang practicing with the first power-play unit today. “His practice today was very encouraging,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ll see how he responds overnight but my sense is he’ll be a game-time decision (Monday).”
- Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reports that there will be no supplementary discipline against the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider and his hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar (video here). While initial looks at the hit made it seem like it was a headshot, second looks suggest the hit wasn’t meant for Tatar’s head, rather a shoulder hit.
- Historically a critic of young players including recent criticism for top prospect Oliver Wahlstrom several weeks ago, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz praised another rookie, forward Otto Koivula. Despite seeing a season-low 6:32 of ice time in his fourth NHL game, Trotz still felt that Koivula can be trusted on the ice, especially on the defensive end. “I trust him in the defensive zone more than anything,” Trotz said. “He’s really sound in the defensive zone. He feels like he’s got more time and space with the puck than probably he really does. If there’s anything that’s gotten him in trouble in the few games, it’s that. But I have a lot of trust in putting him on the ice.”