The New York Rangers are off to a solid start of the season and Igor Shesterkin has played a huge hand in that. However, the Blueshirts will have to get by for a week without him. Alexandar Georgiev backstopped New York to a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The Rangers will be without Shesterkin for at least two more games with six more coming between now and Dec. 17.
He left Thursday’s game against the San Jose Sharks with a lower-body injury. Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said that he’s confident Shesterkin will be back when’s he eligible on Saturday, but leg injuries are tricky to time.
The Importance of Igor Shesterkin
The young Russian netminder is tied with Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell in wins with 13. Shesterkin also boasts a 2.05 goals-against-average and .937 save percentage. The save percentage is good enough for second in the league. Those numbers put him among the best goalies in the league and the advanced stats back that up even more.
The 25-year-old is near the top of the charts according to the MoneyPuck website. Shesterkin has a 14.9 Goals Saved Above Expected rating, which is second behind Campbell. This stat evaluates how many goals a goalie saved above what he was expected to based on the shot quality he faced.
Shesterkin is also near the top in save percentage of unblocked shots (.967) and goals saved above expected per 60 minutes (.874). In layman’s terms, he’s been really good.
The Moscow native has helped the Rangers steal some games with some large performances. He has two 40-save performances and one shutout from his 31-save gem against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 29. Shesterkin gives the Rangers a chance to win most nights he’s in net.
Replacing Igor Shesterkin
Georgiev made 25 saves in the win over the Blackhawks, but the backup has been struggling this season. He does have a 3-1-1 record, but the Bulgarian has a save percentage of .876 and a 3.58 goals-against-average. He’ll need to play better if the Rangers are going to keep up this recent hot streak.
The Rangers do have a pair of back-to-backs between now and Dec. 16. Shesterkin is eligible to return on Saturday, so that would help ease their concerns. However, if Shesterkin is out longer, New York will have to play someone other than Georgiev in net.
Adam Huska was the No. 2 goalie in the Rangers win over the Blackhawks, but he’s not the usual call up from AHL Hartford. NHL veteran Keith Kinkaid usually gets the call when the Blueshirts need a goalie. However, Kinkaid is in COVID-19 protocol and can’t be called up.
Kinkaid is a reliable backup that went 3-2-1 record last season when he filled in. He’s steady enough that can cover for Shesterkin for a couple of games, but there’s no telling when he’ll be released from protocols.
Huska has never played a minute in the NHL, but will get a game if Kinkaid isn’t ready to go. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL Draft and has a 2-3-1 record and 2.20 goals-against-average with the WolfPack.
Either Huska or Kinkaid will likely draw the start on Tuesday against Chicago. Georgiev probably starts Wednesday against the offensive-minded Colorado Avalanche.
What it Means
The Rangers will need Georgiev to find the form that made him one of the better backups a couple of seasons ago. New York has played well under Gallant and want to maintain that momentum. Shesterkin played a big part of the Rangers good start, but it’s not all doom and gloom without their top goalie.
Chris Kreider has been scoring goals at a blistering pace and Adam Fox is looking to repeat his Norris Trophy-winning season. There are plenty of reasons that the Rangers have been successful. Getting Shesterkin back will help, but the Blueshirts will be fine if it’s a brief absence.