Goaltending is arguably the most crucial position in sports. It rivals that of a quarterback or starting pitcher. A team’s success and failures can hinge on the goalie being exceptional or poor. For the New York Rangers, the last 38 years have seen dominance in the net, with Igor Shesterkin becoming the latest phenom to man the pipes for the Blueshirts.
Over nearly four decades of great goaltending is merely a pipe dream for some organizations. Yet the Rangers have lived that reality ever since John Vanbiesbrouck took over the starting duties at the onset of the 1984-85 season. They have passed the torch from one start to the next, each showing their unique style of shutting down opposing teams.
Not once since the early 80’s have there been talks about the Rangers needing change at goaltender. Outside of goaltending, every aspect of the organization has been revamped, criticized, and changed. The crease remains a fortress of hope for the Rangers during the chaos, even through the bleakest of times. Shesterkin is just the latest netminder to captivate New York and take the NHL by storm.
The Russian goaltender is thoroughly dominating the league right now, posting video-game-like numbers while making a young team into a contending one. Although this scenario may be mind-blowing to some fanbases, Rangers fans merely shrug and say, “Wow, we have great goaltending yet again.”
Shesterkin the Latest in Line of Greats
Vanbiesbrouck won the Vezina Trophy in 1985-86 and would be a member of the Rangers net tandem until he departed after the 1991-92 season. At that point, a goaltender named Mike Richter emerged, carrying the load for the Blueshirts. Richter led the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup and won over 20-games ten times while manning the pipes in New York.
Although the American goaltender never won a Vezina, Richter was a fan-favorite and quality starter capable of making spectacular saves that would give the loaded Rangers a chance to win every night. Retiring in 2003, the Rangers gave the starting duties to Mike Dunham, who had a 2.70 goals-against average (GAA) and a .908 save-percentage (SV%) in two seasons.
It wasn’t spectacular, but after a lockout disrupted the 2004-05 season, the Rangers turned to their seventh-round selection in the 2000 NHL Draft, Henrik Lundqvist. Hailed as ‘The King’, Lundqvist would become the most outstanding goaltender in Rangers’ history.
Related: Rangers’ Goalie Showdown – Lundqvist vs. Richter
The Swedish phenom finished his career as the Rangers’ all-time leader in wins (459) and shutouts (64). Lundqvist was a force in the playoffs as well, setting franchise marks in wins (61), shutouts (10), and save percentage (.922). He also went a magnificent 6-2 in Game 7s, performing his best when the stage was the biggest.
Lundqvist’s jersey will be lifted to the rafters on Jan 28, 2022, at Madison Square Garden. When his time with the Rangers ended, there was talk about a young Russian goaltender that had dominated the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. Shesterkin has not only lived up to the hype surrounding him as he made his way from Europe to America but has surpassed it.
Shesterkin Looking to Win His First Vezina
You rarely see a goaltender be considered one of the best in the game just 70 games into their NHL career. Shesterkin, in that small timeframe, has managed to toss his name into the discussion amongst the league’s elite. Through 23 games of this campaign, the 26-year-old has a 17-4-2 record, with a minuscule 1.99 GAA and a .939 SV%.
He is five wins shy of Andrei Vasilevskiy for the league lead with eight fewer games. Shesterkin ranks first in goals-against average, first in save percentage, and third in shutouts (minimum 10 starts). It is an incredible feat to go from Lundqvist, who many considered the most outstanding goaltender of his generation, to Shesterkin, who is tallying incredulous numbers.
The three seasons before his move to the NHL, Shesterkin registered a 1.64, 1.70. and 1.11 GAA in the KHL, respectively. Many thought those absurd numbers would normalize in the NHL, but with a 1.99 GAA thus far, it seems he can dominate whatever league he finds himself in.
Analytically, Shesterkin’s dominance is even more prevalent. He has the best goals-saved above average (GSAA) on all three major analytics websites (Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, and Money Puck). For the sake of consistency, we are going to use Evolving Hockey, where Shesterkin has a 19.31 GSAA (The lowest of the bunch), almost a full three goals higher than Jack Campbell’s 16.87.
Magnificently, he leads the league in goals above replacement with 25.6 and wins above replacement with 4.5. Based on Evolving Hockey’s goalie chart, Shesterkin is not only playing above every other goaltender in the league, but he is also giving the Rangers a chance to win games they have no business winning.
His ability to read plays and steal games reminds everyone of his predecessor. The Rangers have holes, but a top-tier goaltender is a great equalizer. If the Rangers get better around a nearly unbeatable Shesterkin, they will be a force for years to come.
The Rangers’ transition from Vanbiesbrouck to Richter was enviable. The change from Richter to Lundqvist was improbable. But the transition from Lundqvist to Shesterkin? Well, that is just leaving every other NHL team shaking their head.
A lot of credit goes to Benoit Allaire, the Rangers goaltending coach and one of the best in the business. He has been able to take backups, make them starters, and keep his superstar netminders at peak performance. But even a coach like Allaire can sit back and marvel at the magnificent run of goaltending the Rangers are on and how good their newest star, Shesterkin, truly is.