The New York Rangers have found light at the end of a grueling three-year tunnel. One big question still remains, however, in who will sit behind Henrik Lundqvist and eventually take the starting spot.
They are flush with young talent, gained two very high-profile free agents and have a heavyweight bout for the backup goaltending position. Going into the 2019-20 season, there is every reason to be excited for Rangers hockey.
Before going into this, one thing needs to be cleared up. Lundqvist will be the starting goaltender for the Blueshirts until his contract expires in 2021. These next two seasons will determine the heir to King Hank’s throne.
There are two members of the Rangers organization who have a very good, if not great, shot at carrying on Lundqvist’s legacy. Alexandr Georgiev, Lundqvist’s backup last season and a bit of the 2017-18 season, and Igor Shesterkin, the fourth-round selection of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Last season was the first test for Georgiev as the full-time backup for the Rangers. The previous season, he only appeared in 10 matchups and held a 4-4-1 record. It was a short time in the NHL, but it was a learning experience for him.
This past season, he had a record of 14-13-4 with a goals-against average of 2.91. He was adequate as the backup to Lundqvist, and was able to compete against some of the NHL’s best. Despite being sent down to the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, for 11 games, his best play came while being a part of the Rangers. This is a positive for him in the impending battle against Shesterkin, as his experience will help him win the backup role and eventually the starting gig.
His shining moment came on his birthday against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 10. Georgiev was a brick wall inside the pipes and made 55 saves, the most ever at Madison Square Garden. The Maple Leafs, filled with sharpshooters like Auston Matthews and John Tavares, were denied every opportunity. This included 23 shots on the power play alone.
That was just one of four games in which Georgiev had 40 or more saves. the others coming against the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and again against the Maple Leafs. All three of those teams made the playoffs last season, including the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
All in all, Georgiev showed a great sense of consistency and bounce back after a bad start. He only allowed more than four goals in two straight starts just once, when he allowed four and five goals against the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens, respectively. He may have allowed five goals or more seven times, but in each of the starts after he didn’t allow more than three.
The only thing standing in Georgiev’s way, besides himself, is Shesterkin. Even though he hasn’t yet played a second in the NHL, his performance in the KHL should not be ignored.
Over the last three seasons, Shesterkin has mirrored his stats to that of a video game. He has seemingly put the rest of the league on the rookie setting and the game has slowed to a halt for him. He had a staggering record of 80-19, which is coupled with an equally shocking save percentage of .935.
Shesterkin has been incredible thus far is his young career, and if it continues with the Rangers, then it could be franchise changing. But, at this moment in time with this current roster, there is already enough risk.
Who Will Win?
It is important to remember that whichever way this turns out, the Rangers are in an amazing spot. Both of these goaltenders have an opportunity to carry Lundqvist’s legacy into the next generation of success.
There are some who believe that Shesterkin will win this backup battle and be the next starting goaltender for the Rangers. It is entirely possible and it is a valid point that no matter the circumstance, the Rangers have options.
But, Georgiev should be the backup going forward, as well as the next starting goaltender after Lundqvist. Going with a goaltender who has faced NHL talent for 43 games over two seasons is the smarter and safer move. Shesterkin, despite putting up near video-game numbers in the KHL, is still a risk. Of course, we won’t know until this season starts and the puck is dropped.
Eventually, there will be an odd man out. The Rangers cannot have three goaltenders on the roster, and a crucial decision about the future of this franchise will have to be made. Once Lundqvist’s contract runs out at the end of the 2020-21 season, there is little to no idea what will happen next. Keeping Georgiev in the backup position for now, and then transitioning him to being the full-time goaltender is the best possible move.