Rangers Future a Bit Brighter With Shesterkin

Igor Shesterkin has played his first five NHL games for the New York Rangers and he’s proven the call up from the Hartford Wolf Pack was a valid one. He has a record of 4-1 with a 2.61 goals-against average, while all five games have been at Madison Square Garden. He’s come up with some big saves in crucial situations and the Rangers have played pretty well in front of him and he definitely gives the team a spark when he’s in the lineup.

Shesterkin, who was named to the 2020 AHL All-Star team, won his first two starts before losing one and winning his last two after the NHL All-Star break. He’s stopped 154 out of 167 shots so far and hasn’t given up more than three goals in a game while giving the Rangers a chance to win in each game he’s played. Sure, it’s a tiny sample size but it’s definitely promising for the 24-year-old rookie from Moscow, Russia, playing in his first full season in North America.

Shesterkin Finally Arrives

Rangers fans had been waiting with anticipation like when you order a new gadget online or waiting for a concert date to come that you bought tickets for months ago. Both the fans and the Rangers’ organization have been waiting for the day they can see one of their top prospects in a real NHL game. Sure, they’ve seen the pre-season starts, and some have seen him stone top AHL scorers while playing for the Wolf Pack, but this is Broadway, this is MSG, this is the big-time. Every New Yorker understands what this means, and Shesterkin seems to understand it as well.

Colorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon New York Rangers Igor Shesterkin
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon scores on New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (Sarah Stier-USA TODAY Sports)

Against the Colorado Avalanche, during the first period of his first NHL start, Igor Shesterkin came out of his crease to attempt about a 70-foot saucer pass to try and spring a Ranger forward on a breakaway. The move didn’t turn out well but it helped Shesterkin recover after a shaky start, and he made the next 25-plus saves to help the Rangers win the game. The boys on the bench got a chuckle out of it while head coach Dan Quinn perhaps wasn’t as amused, but they all knew they had a guy willing to put it on the line to make a big play.

Before the saucer pass, Shesterkin let in two goals on the first three shots he faced and he seemed a bit nervous. After that, Igor steadied the ship and showed the Rangers brass plus the fans a glimpse of what they might be seeing for the next decade. He only allowed one more goal the rest of the game and the Rangers came out with a 5-3 victory. Shesterkin made 13 saves in the third period and two key shorthanded stops with under 10 minutes to play.

After the game, Quinn said, “He has played his way into this opportunity. You have a guy playing as well as he has in the American Hockey League, you call him up and give him an opportunity.”

Shesterkin Loses His First

After Shesterkin and the Rangers beat the hated New Jersey Devils 6-3 on Jan. 9, his next game came against the Rangers’ division foe, Columbus Blue Jackets, 10 days later. Shesterkin was great that night but not great enough. The Rangers lost 2-1 when the Blue Jackets scored a late goal on a 3-on-2 rush with 27 seconds left. The star of the night was Blue Jackets’ goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, who made 31 saves in his NHL debut.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (Sarah Stier-USA TODAY Sports)

However, Shesterkin played his best game yet and despite having an ugly taste in their mouth he and the Rangers could take some positives away from the loss. Quinn had this to say following that game, “To give up a 3-on-2 with [27] seconds to go is just inexcusable. A really bad change, bad F3 at the wrong time. But we were playing with fire for a while, I thought. Just disappointing, but listen, we’ve got to move past it and get ready for Tuesday.”

Back On Track

Coming back from the All-Star break the Rangers played the team with the worst record in the league, the Detroit Red Wings. Shesterkin, who played down in Hartford while Chris Kreider was participating in the NHL All-Star Game and the other Rangers were resting, got the start against the Red Wings and registered a 4-2 win. After the game, he said this through an interpreter, “The rest of the team had a break, so I think it was harder for them than for me. I think it was helpful to go back [to Hartford] and prove myself. The team really helped me; there were lots of blocked shots today (18).”

Shesterkin took his own shots (two) at an empty-net goal in the last two minutes but was unsuccessful. Quinn said, “I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get one, he does have that ability.”

Shesterkin’s fifth and most recent game was against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He came through with another solid performance making 27 saves while the Rangers provided him with strong offensive support in a 5-3 victory. Several of those saves were from high-quality scoring chances by the highest-scoring team in the league. Perhaps the best was the “save of the game” on a one-timer by Leafs’ sniper Austin Mathews, although there were a few other sequences where Shesterkin made two and three subsequent point-blank stops to solidify the win.

So far the future is bright for the young netminder, and on all accounts, he constantly works hard to improve his game. Practicing and being around future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist isn’t a bad deal either. However, unfortunately, that may not last too long. Lundqvist’s name has come up in trade rumors although that scenario isn’t likely, you never know in this league. Lundqvist carries a big contract for an aging goalie and it’s probably best to keep him around to help nurture Shesterkin and their other young goaltender Alexander Georgiev; if Georgiev isn’t moved and if they can make the three goalie system work.

Coming down the stretch and into the Feb. 24 trade deadline it will definitely be interesting to see how the Rangers move forward in regards to Shesterkin and their goaltending situation. However, it’s probably safe to say he’s not going anywhere. The Rangers could at some point send him back down for a playoff run with the Wolf Pack, but they’ll surely want to continue allowing him to develop as an NHL regular and allow him to get as much work in the big leagues as they can.

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