The New York Rangers resume the 2021-22 season after a slight pause, facing the Florida Panthers on the road on Dec. 29. With star goaltender Igor Shesterkin ready to join the lineup after an injury sustained during a game against the San Jose Sharks almost a month ago, he looks to lead the team to a win this Wednesday night.
The league has been going through a tumultuous time starting before the holiday break as players continue to catch COVID-19. This only complicated the situation for the Rangers’ goaltending department. In Shesterkin’s absence, the team summoned Adam Huska and Keith Kinkaid as reinforcements. Backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev provided some success in net as well. But among his replacements, Shesterkin proved to be the most valuable Blueshirt this season.
The team learned a lot from the challenges faced during Shesterkin’s absence — it served as a reminder of how crucial his performance is for the team, especially as they make a run for the playoffs. His performance post-break is important, along with the rest of his team, as coach Gerard Gallant emphasized.
Shesterkin and His Role in the Hot Start
With eight missed games, it became clearer that the netminder stole some games for the Rangers this season. Though injuries are never welcomed, Shesterkin’s exit came at a horrible time. The team found much success and was able to translate their momentum from game to game. His loss was arguably the highest hurdle the team has had to jump thus far, but that is not saying they have not faced adversity this season.
The team snapped their winning streak during Shesterkin’s time on injured reserve, but the Rangers pulled out four wins. They proved they can sustain a win streak, and with him back the team is one step closer to beginning a new string of victories as they fight to keep up in the division.
Though COVID-related pauses extended his time out from injury, it seems as if there is nothing holding him back from riding another hot streak. Even with other players stepping up this season — like Georgiev in his opportunities — Shesterkin’s workload was pulling the team further along. His consistency in net provides the steady foundation the offense needs as they locate their full potential. The Rangers have a long stretch of games ahead, provided that COVID outbreaks are manageable with the temporary taxi squad system implemented again. Yet, just as the whole team has yet to find their full potential, Shesterkin appears to have another level to his game as well.
The organization should make the conclusion that handing Shesterkin a majority of the game starts will be critical for continued success, if they have not already. Especially as the injury proved to not be a result of continual exertion, which is reassuring news for the club.
Though the backup goaltenders proved serviceable and stable in net should injury appear again, this adds a layer to contemplate in regards to a possible Georgiev trade situation. The young players in their development phase will also benefit from Shesterkin’s consistency in net as they find their own game and learn best how to support their netminder.
A Look at Shesterkin’s Numbers
Shesterkin certainly passes the eye test as most valuable Rangers player with flying colors, but the numbers back it up. In 18 games played, he owns a record of 13 wins and three losses in regulation. His .937 save percentage (SV%) lands him among some of the league’s finest names right now and is tied for best SV%.
The Russian netminder was undefeated for the Rangers in the month of December prior to his groin injury. On home ice, he posted a .939 SV% with a winning record of 6-1-1. Shesterkin performs on the road, too. In fact, 10 of his 18 games were on the road as he boasted a .936 SV% and a 7-2-1 record.
Obviously, it has been a while since Shesterkin saw the net. “Every time after a long pause, the next game, of course you feel a little nervous,” Shesterkin admitted. “But hopefully after a few shots, all nerves go out.” But in his third season with the Rangers, he has his experience to lean on. (from ‘Igor Shesterkin thinks he has answers after ‘f–ked again’ injury fears’ The New York Post, 12/27/21)
It will not be an easy welcome back for the No.1 goalie, as the Rangers have only one win up on the 18-7-4 Panthers. With a few regular defenders in COVID protocol, Shesterkin is going to rely on the incoming young defensemen to pitch in. Nonetheless, these tests will surely prove what the Rangers are made of.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and earned a degree in Communications and English. After she moved to Pittsburgh for school, she fell in love with the vibrant hockey community but she was raised in a household that rooted for a different team — the New York Rangers. Rachel covers the Rangers at thehockeywriters.com and she can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.