Igor Shesterkin has been significant to the New York Rangers’ regular-season success during 2021-22. He is the top pick to win the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best goaltender and is a candidate for the Hart Trophy, given to the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the league. Goalies are not often considered for the Hart Trophy and it is a testament to his ability that he is in the mix for the NHL MVP award.
Shesterkin had a few disappointing outings in the net over the last few weeks including two over the last 10 days. While the team defense and offense are partly to blame, the Rangers’ starting netminder has not always looked sharp during the past few weeks. It is unreasonable to expect a goaltender to be perfect in every game he plays during an 82-game season, but it is noticeable when he has a few off nights because he has been great this season for the Rangers. Let’s take a look at why his mental focus is significant to the team’s postseason success this year.
Shesterkin’s Play is Vital to Whether the Rangers Win or Lose
The Rangers have gotten into a bad routine of allowing the first goal in five of the last six games in which Shesterkin started for New York. The Rangers managed to win five of the games in which they trailed early, but the Rangers’ goalie expressed frustration with his game last week. After getting shutout on April 1 in a game against the New York Islanders, the Rangers gave up the first three goals in an April 3 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
After the shootout loss, Shesterkin expressed his dissatisfaction with his play, “I don’t want to talk about my game. I’m a little bit frustrated. You really want to keep winning but I’ll keep working on my game.” After the Flyers game, the Rangers’ netminder rebounded allowing two goals in the following three games, which helped New York to clinch a playoff spot. His ability to move on quickly from bad games is a quality that exemplifies his significance to the Rangers’ success.
After the win on April 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Shesterkin commented about his goal after his rough stretch of games, “Obviously, the last few games didn’t go as planned. I was really trying to get my grasp on the game. But we’ll keep moving forward from there, I’ll work with the coaches and we’ll try to move on,” (from ‘Rangers snare key win over potential playoff foe Penguins,’ New York Post, 4/7/22). Head coach Gerard Gallant commented about the goalie’s struggles, “People were worried about him, I wasn’t. He played really well, made some real key saves at key times.”
Shesterkin’s rough stretch toward the end of March and at the beginning of April may have come at the perfect time if he proceeds to regain his Vezina Trophy-caliber play in time for the start of the postseason. He is well on his way given his play during the last three games. His performance has made a difference for the Rangers this season in regards to the team winning games they were outplayed in.
Significance of Shesterkin’s Mental Game
Shesterkin lacks playoff experience and it will be interesting to see how he responds if he has a difficult game during a seven-game series. The circumstances are elevated in the postseason and a game can quickly snowball for a team if the opposition gains momentum. A goaltender’s confidence can be rattled if he allows multiple goals over a few minutes during a playoff game.
Due to the Rangers’ tendency to allow the first goal in several of Shesterkin’s starts over the last few weeks, it will be interesting to see if he is affected if the team allows the first goal in consecutive playoff games. I believe he will not be affected because the team has enough players capable of responding offensively and the goalie shows the mental toughness to improve from bad play. The Rangers’ starting netminder also gets better throughout the course of the game with the more shots he faces.
The lack of postseason experience from several players on this club is concerning and is a disadvantage compared to a potential playoff opponent that is more seasoned such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, or Boston Bruins. Regardless of the opponent, the Rangers will need players who have more postseason experience in Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Barclay Goodrow to lead a relatively youthful group through the postseason. Rangers fans should have confidence in the veteran players to lead the way amongst one of the young rosters in the NHL.
Shesterkin has displayed mental toughness, which has helped him have a stellar season. He will have the opportunity to gain experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which will make him a more accomplished goaltender. He has proven to respond well to adversity and the postseason presents the most difficult circumstances to deal with given the duration is much different compared to the regular season. The Rangers will need to break the routine of consistently allowing the first goal as it can be challenging for a club to be trailing in consecutive games during a postseason series.
The Rangers’ starting netminder has shown he can be relied upon to keep the team in games more often than not this season, which is partly why he is a candidate for both the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy. His mental game will be tested under contrasting conditions from the regular season during the playoffs, but he has earned the reputation of being dependable and that will translate during the postseason for the Rangers.