The New York Rangers have been one of a handful of teams that have remained consistently good as the 2021-22 season nears its halfway point. Players such as Chris Kreider, Adam Fox, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Igor Shesterkin have been the backbone of the team’s transition from rebuilder to a contender this year. The Blueshirts have remained one of the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division for the majority of the season and appear to be on their way to qualifying for the playoffs.
The Rangers’ depth players have also contributed to their success this season. Alexandar Georgiev has improved his play since December when he filled in as the starting goaltender while Shesterkin was unavailable due to suffering a lower-body injury. If the team moves on from their backup netminder, team president/general manager Chris Drury should keep him on the roster until this offseason. Here are some reasons why he should not be traded by the trade deadline in March.
Rangers Have Two Starting Caliber Goaltenders
After the rocky start to his season, Georgiev had a lot to prove when Shesterkin left the Dec. 5 game against the San Jose Sharks. Earlier this season, I wrote that the Rangers’ backup goaltender was the team’s most disappointing player. Entering December, he had a save percentage (SV%) of .858 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 4.08.
Georgiev stepped up his game immediately when he needed to assume goaltending duties against the Sharks. He preserved a 1-0 shutout for the Rangers and would continue to resemble a starting goalie for them. He improved his GAA to 2.71, his SV% to .908, and is a candidate for the most improved player on the team as the halfway point of the season approaches.
What looked like a weakness for the Rangers in early December is now a strength in mid-January. The team has a dependable backup to start in goal when needed. While Shesterkin is the starting goaltender, Georgiev still possesses value because he is playing like a dependable netminder once again.
Quality Depth Is Needed Throughout a Season
Every team’s health is tested throughout the course of an 82-game season, but the organizations that are left standing as the playoffs progress possess exceptionally depth throughout their lineups. Every franchise has weaknesses, but the flaws in a successful team’s lineup are less transparent, because as in the Rangers case, they are consistently winning. The core players have been remarkable, but the secondary depth players — including Barclay Goodrow, Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren, Ryan Strome, Kevin Rooney, and Georgiev — have done well in their individual roles also.
Previously, in November, during Georgiev’s struggles, he commented that he was adjusting to his lack of playing time, “Yeah, it’s different. Less playing time is not much fun. As far as for me, I just need to find my game and get back on track. The team has been playing really good. Luckily, we got some points with me not on top of my game. I’m just trying to find that and get back to the way I can play. I have to work hard in practice and do the best I can. That’s what I’m focused on” (from ‘Rangers’ Alexandar Georgiev looks to play better in limited opportunities,’ New York Post, 11/12/21).
When Shesterkin was injured in December, head coach Gerard Gallant maintained confidence in Georgiev after the team’s win on Dec. 5, “He made three great saves, especially coming in on that power play. He looked solid, I was really happy. It was a good opportunity for him to step up. I am confident in the kid. Last night he went in and did a great job. He’s worked hard in practice, so now he gets the opportunity. I hope he takes advantage of it” (from ‘Report: Gallant expects Shesterkin back in a week for Rangers, confident in Georgiev,’ Forever Blueshirts, 12/4/21).
Georgiev went 3-2-1 in his six starts as the starting goaltender when Shesterkin was unavailable to play. The Rangers’ starting netminder was placed in health and safety protocols this month, and the backup needed to be the team’s number one goalie once again. The Ruse, Bulgaria native had a 2-2 record and played well in three of the games he started in. Fans should be more confident in the one-two punch of the goaltenders now in comparison with the first two months of the season.
Shesterkin Has an Injury History
The primary concern about Shesterkin during his three seasons in the NHL has been the number of injuries he’s had. His list of ailments is the biggest reason for the Rangers to keep Georgiev until the offseason. He has missed time more than once throughout his career with groin injuries.
The native of Moscow, Russia commented about his injury in December and admitted he needs to continue to work on stretching, “I think just I need to stretch more maybe because I’m not young right now. I will work on this. I don’t know how [to say it in] English, but usually in Russia, we [say], if you’ve got something, it means it should happen and you need to be stronger” (from, ‘Igor Shesterkin thinks he has answers after ’f-ked again’ injury fears, New York Post, 12/27/21).
Due to Shesterkin getting injured in every season he’s played, a dependable backup is a necessity for the Rangers to have. The starting goaltender is having a year that is Vezina Trophy-worthy. In 23 games played, he has a record of 17-4-2, a 1.99 GAA, and a .939 SV%. He is playing like one of the top three starting netminders in the NHL and continues to be crucial to the Rangers’ success this season with each start.
Having a reliable backup goaltender such as what the Rangers have in Georgiev is beneficial because it will not be as much of a setback if Shesterkin misses a few games here and there. However, that is assuming Shesterkin does not miss a substantial amount of time, such as multiple months or longer with an injury. In that case, the organization would need to adjust accordingly and hope for the best moving forward. The Rangers have been a better team with their starting goalie active. However, they would still remain a formidable team in the NHL due to how they have fared without their number one netminder in 2021-22.
With the victory on Jan. 15 against the Philadelphia Flyers being an example, the Rangers continue to find ways to win games when they have not played their best hockey. They’re in first place in the Metropolitan Division and continue to exceed expectations this season. The depth players for the organization have stepped up their games when needed, as in the case of Georgiev’s play. And trading him before the trade deadline would create an unnecessary weakness that would hinder them in 2021-22.