Rangers’ Shesterkin Stepping Up Since Return

The New York Rangers suffered a massive injury scare when Igor Shesterkin had to be assisted off the ice with a leg injury during a stellar performance against the New Jersey Devils. He was diagnosed with a strained groin, which was good news considering how bad the injury looked when it happened, but it still kept him out of the lineup for three weeks. New York’s backup goalie, Alexandar Georgiev, struggled during Shesterkin’s absence, but fortunately for the Rangers, Shesterkin has been sharp in all three of his games since returning to the lineup.

Shesterkin’s Play Before Getting Injured

Entering the season, the expectations for Shesterkin were extremely high after his brilliant play during the 2019-20 season and the Rangers’ decision to buy out legendary goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. He finished with a 10-2 record and a .932 save percentage in the 2019-20 season but was limited to 12 games due to injuries and the coronavirus pandemic bringing the season to a halt.

This season Shesterkin allowed a few soft goals in his first couple of starts, and Rangers’ head coach David Quinn decided to alternate starts between him and Georgiev. Shesterkin responded by playing better, but Quinn continued to alternate goaltenders for a while before finally deciding to make him the team’s primary goalie.

Shesterkin continued to play well and give the Blueshirts opportunities to win games, even when they were outplayed and struggling to score, with Artemi Panarin out of the lineup and Mika Zibanejad slumping. He was quick, sharp, controlled rebounds well and helped the team out by handling the puck effectively when he had to do so. He led New York to two victories over the division-leading Washington Capitals, stopping 31 of 33 shots in the first win and 26 of 27 shots in the second win.

Igor Shesterkin/Shestyorkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin was playing very well for New York Rangers before his injury (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

In his final two games before his injury, Shesterkin led the Rangers to consecutive victories over the Buffalo Sabres and Devils. The Rangers were sloppy defensively against the Devils, but he repeatedly shut down scoring opportunities, making 32 saves on 33 shots before leaving injured late in the game.

Shesterkin’s Play After Returning

Despite missing three weeks, Shesterkin picked up right where he left off in his return to action. His first game back was against the Philadelphia Flyers, and he got plenty of offensive support, but the Rangers also gave up a lot of scoring chances. He looked calm and collected in net, despite being peppered with shots throughout the game as he made 41 saves on 44 shots in an 8-3 victory.

The Rangers struggled in their second consecutive game against the Flyers as they came out flat and allowed too many odd-man rushes and scoring chances. Shesterkin kept them in it as he stopped 35 of 37 shots, including a few beautiful glove saves, but the Blueshirts fell 2-1.

After the Rangers started Keith Kinkaid in a 5-4 loss to the Capitals, Shesterkin led the Rangers to a bounce-back 5-2 victory in the rematch. Washington scored two early goals on the goalie, although he had no chance on the second one, as Nic Dowd was able to whack away at the Rangers’ goalie without a whistle until both his legs and the puck ended up in the net.

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Shesterkin kept the Rangers in the game as he stopped six shots to help them kill off a penalty in the second period. The Blueshirts then came from behind to take a 3-2 lead early in the third period and relied heavily on him the rest of the way, as he stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third period.

Moving Forward

The Rangers will have to rely on Shesterkin to continue playing at a very high level in order to keep themselves in the playoff race, although they have fallen well behind the top four teams in the East Division. He has been excellent when healthy this season and has a .925 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average in 18 games.

Alexander Georgiev New York Rangers
Alexander Georgiev’s struggles have made Igor Shesterkin even more important to the New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

New York’s backup goalie, Georgiev, played poorly with Shesterkin injured and Kinkaid, who started the season in the AHL, is making a push to remain the team’s backup for the rest of the season. Given that Shesterkin has already missed time with three separate injuries through his first 30 NHL games, the Rangers will likely be cautious with him, giving both Georgiev and Kinkaid an opportunity to impress the team.

It has become clear that Shesterkin is New York’s top goalie, and when healthy, he has played at an extremely high level. If he can stay healthy, he has the potential to become a star, and that bodes very well for the future of the Rangers.

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