John Tortorella

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Golden Knights win DeBoer’s debut; Hats off to Ovechkin

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. Another milestone for the greatest goal scorer to ever play in the NHL. He recorded his 25th career hat trick on Thursday night and reached the 30-goal mark for the 15th consecutive season to start his career, a feat accomplished only by him and Mike Gartner. Read more about it here.

2. David Rittich, Calgary Flames. Huge night for the All-Star goalie as he stopped 35 shots during regulation and overtime and all three shots he faced in a shootout to help lift the Flames to a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flames have now won six of their past seven games. Thanks to the Arizona Coyotes’ loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Flames are now tied for first place in the Pacific Division.

3. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights won Peter DeBoer’s coaching debut on Thursday night, 4-2, over the Ottawa Senators thanks to a big game from Stone. He scored a goal and recorded an assist in his first game back in Ottawa as a visiting player. Stone played the first six-and-a-half years of his career with the Senators and was one of the team’s best players during his time there. He was a key part of their 2016-17 run to the Eastern Conference Final and became one of the league’s best two-way players. The Senators traded him to Vegas at the trade deadline a year ago. He received a lengthy ovation from the Ottawa crowd on Thursday.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Jaroslav Halak gave up a goal to Sidney Crosby just 24 seconds into the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, then slammed the door shut the right of the night to help the Boston Bruins to a 4-1 win.
  • John Tortorella recorded his 200th win as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in their 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. It is a huge win for the Blue Jackets and a costly game for the Hurricanes as defenseman Dougie Hamilton exited the game with a nasty looking leg injury. Read about it here.
  • The Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game losing streak with an impressive win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Read about it here.
  • Sam Montembeault replaced an injured Chris Driedger in the Florida Panthers’ net and helped them get a big win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk continued his great play with the Montreal Canadiens by scoring two goals in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. He now has three goals and seven total points in seven games since joining the Canadiens.
  • Rasmus Dahlin scored his third goal of the season to help the Buffalo Sabres beat the Dallas Stars.
  • John Gibson stopped 33 shots for the Anaheim Ducks as they hand the Nashville Predators their seventh defeat in their past 10 games.
  • Philipp Grubauer stops all 27 shots he faces in a shutout win for the Colorado Avalanche over the San Jose Sharks.
  • Jake Virtanen avoids a suspension earlier in the day and then scores the game-winning goal for the Vancouver Canucks in a big win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Highlights of the Night

This might have been Rittich’s biggest and best save of the night.

Cam Atkinson wasted no time making an impact in his return to the Blue Jackets’ lineup with this assist early in the first period.

Chris Kreider scores a game-winning power play with 30 seconds to play in regulation to help give the New York Rangers a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.

Blooper of the Night

After whiffing on a shootout attempt earlier this week, Brad Marchand had some more problems on a breakaway.

Auston Matthews tried the lacrosse move and it did not work.

Factoids

  • Cale Makar scored his 10th goal of the season for the Colorado Avalanche, tying him for the most in franchise history for a rookie defenseman. [NHL PR]
  • Patrice Bergeron reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th time in his career, the second most in Bruins franchise history behind only John Buyck. [NHL PR]
  • Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov is the 10th rookie goalie to ever win nine consecutive decisions during the regular season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Calgary Flames 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 (SO)
Florida Panthers 4, Los Angeles Kings 3
New York Rangers 3, New York Islanders 2
Montreal Canadiens 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Washington Capitals 5, New Jersey Devils 2
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Ottawa Senators 2
Anaheim Ducks 4, Nashville Predators 2
Minnesota Wild 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Buffalo Sabres 4, Dallas Stars 1
Colorado Avalanche 4, San Jose Sharks 0
Vancouver Canucks 3, Arizona Coyotes 1

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blue Jackets fans start GoFundMe for John Tortorella foundation after fine

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Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella was fined this $20,000 this week (with a conditional fine added on top of it) after he criticized the NHL and the on-ice officials for a time-keeping mistake in a recent loss.

Blue Jackets fans have decided to show support for their coach by starting a GoFundMe to raise money that will be donated to the John Tortorella Family Foundation.

(The GoFundMe is here)

During the Blue Jackets shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks this past week, an extra two seconds ran off the clock in overtime that were not put back on. That time-keeping decision ended up costing the Blue Jackets what would have been a buzzer-beating game-winning goal in overtime. They went on to lose in the shootout, while also losing starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo in the shootout. He will be sidelined for four-to-six weeks.

Tortorella went into a rage after the game in his press conference, resulting in his latest fine from the league. Tortorella expressed regret the next day.

The organizer of the GoFundMe says they will keep the account open until the end of the month.

As of Thursday night more than $3,800 has been raised.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

NHL injury news: Good for Bruins, bad for Jack Hughes and others

Bruins injury news Krug Krejci McAvoy Hughes
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The 2020 Winter Classic began the next decade of NHL action, and that action included violence, a comeback, and Texas-sized fun. Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 feels more like the first full round of hockey in this new decade, though, and it’s not surprising that there’s plenty of NHL injury news to consider, from returning Boston Bruins to less positive developments for the likes of Jack Hughes.

Let’s get to the tidbits like Brian Boucher seeking fried Snickers.

Plenty of good Bruins injury news updates

The Bruins hold a significant lead in the Atlantic Division, but can’t be happy about a 4-2-4 stretch, and their generally mediocre end to 2019.

That said, as much as the Bruins rolled with the punches over the last few seasons, you can only hold off injuries for so long. Boston buckled after a while, so the Bruins must be heartened to start 2020 a little bit healthier. It certainly looks that way right now.

The Bruins’ website shared plenty of promising updates:

Even if McAvoy can’t quite return, that’s quite the slew of returning players. Danton Heinen is also expected to be back in the mix after being a healthy scratch.

More bad breaks for Blue Jackets

The Bruins face the Blue Jackets on Thursday, and Columbus stands on the other end of the spectrum. The Blue Jackets keep finding ways to earn standings points, even as injuries pile up, and John Tortorella receives more fines.

The Blue Jackets placed intriguing young forward Alexandre Texier on IR on Thursday with a lumbar stress fracture. “Lumbar stress fracture” translates to a back/spine injury, so it’s no surprise that Texier is sidelined indefinitely.

Texier adds to an increasingly ridiculous Blue Jackets injury list that also includes:

Combine injuries with all of those free agent loses, and Columbus deserves credit for hanging in there. Sadly for Torts & Co., they face tough odds to actually persevere to the playoffs, though.

Setback for Jack

Jack Hughes looked like he was heating up with three points in his last four games, but now he’s hurt. The top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft suffered an upper-body injury, leaving him day-to-day.

Considering the sorry state of the New Jersey Devils, there’s no sense in risking Hughes’ long-term health by rushing him back. Honestly, Hughes might benefit from a break.

The Devils face the Islanders as part of NBCSN’s doubleheader on Thursday, with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

[MORE: Devils – Islanders preview]

Assorted injury news

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL fines Tortorella $20K, also adds strange ‘conditional fine’

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The NHL fined John Tortorella $20K for his profane criticisms of officials following Sunday’s controversial 3-2 Blues Jackets loss to the Blackhawks. The league also added a strange wrinkle: a conditional $25K fine in the event of “similar inappropriate behavior” from Torts through Dec. 29, 2020.

So does this mean that Tortorella could not just celebrate the holidays and a new year in late 2020/early 2021, but also a renewed ability to speak his mind?

The whole thing is odd enough that you might want to see the release for yourself:

NHL fans have become familiar with conditional picks being traded, but conditional fines? (Tom Wilson might want to start putting aside some extra money, just in case.)

Torts followed a familiar pattern to receive this unfamiliar punishment. Consider the Stages of Torts Fine.

1. Tortorella fumes, usually after a loss

Whether you like Tortorella or not as a coach, you can’t deny that he’s one of the only coaches who consistently entertains (intentionally or not) during post-game press conferences.

Honestly, the league hanging that conditional fine over Torts’ head isn’t just strange and pushy. It also might make him bite his tongue and provide more “no-comment” answers. Do we really want censored Torts after seeing him fly off the handle so many times?

(Enters vote for Profane Torts.)

2. Torts keeps costing himself money

We’ve reached the point where Tortorella should have fine and suspension protection built into any contract.

Recall that Tortorella received two fines in 2011-12 alone, including one for calling officiating “disgusting” following the 2012 Winter Classic.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline puts Tortorella’s fines total at $80K, and that’s if he avoids that conditional $25K fine. (Hey, 100 does make for a good milestone, generally speaking.)

The league also suspended Tortorella 15 days (or six games) for his notorious Flames confrontation during Torts’ Canucks days. The Blue Jackets should invest in someone whose job is to calm Tortorella down, much like how Rams coach Sean McVay has someone monitoring his sideline movements.

3. Tortorella usually apologizes

After venting about the 2012 Winter Classic, Tortorella apologized for “tainting” it with his mouth.

Torts also backtracked following the Blackhawks incident that drew Wednesday’s fine.

“I ask my team to be disciplined, and I think it’s quite honestly a big part of our loss last night, was the lack of discipline with our team. I think the coach followed through with lack of discipline after the game with you guys,” Tortorella said (he’s “the coach”).

“If I have a problem with something that has gone on in the game, with whom or with what, I think it needs to be handled internally and not in the public manner as it was last night.”

On one hand, it’s amusing to see Tortorella cool off, essentially becoming Bruce Banner apologizing on behalf of “The Incredible Hulk.”

On the other hand, it’s sad that coaches risk taking a loss at the bank anytime they’re honest — even when they might be right. They’re forced to at least make token appearances with the media when they’re angriest, yet not allowed to truly speak their minds. Seems a little unfair.

I also wonder: by apologizing, did Tortorella soften his punishment? Would the NHL have hammered Torts with the full $45K unless he meekly apologized?

Either way, it’s strange, even by the already-strange standards of how the league handles a wide variety of, er, “inappropriate behaviors.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.