Igor Shesterkin set to debut against offensive powerhouse

The headlines tonight will certainly be centered around recently recalled goalie Igor Shesterkin but the New York Rangers know that defeating a Western Conference powerhouse in the Avalanche will be much needed to turn things around.

Unlike the New York Rangers, the Avalanche are in a secure playoff spot and are second in the western conference with 54 points.  With an upset victory, New York, with 42 points, would propel themselves into within five points of the second wild card position.

It’s going to be a monstrous task for the Blueshirts to defeat the Avs for one main reason-they are one of the leagues worst defenses going against the leagues top offense, one that averages 3.6 goals a game. Shesterkin has been a dominant force in the AHL with Hartford, leading the league in Goals Against Average while being second in save percentage and wins. He also has three shutouts so to say he is over-achieving may be an understatement.

if the Rangers want to have any chance of winning this game, their struggling blue line is going to have to contain Nathan Mackinnon and his line-mates Gabriel Landeskog and Joonas Donskoi. For a team that has allowed 11 goals in the past three games, I think it’s best we pray for Igor when he makes his debut in between the pipes.

The Rangers are coming off a devastating defeat against the Canucks, where they were actually played a solid, disciplined defensive game, but unfortunately allowed a late deciding goal to Tyler Myers with just over a minute to play.

On the other hand, the Colorado Avalanche’s two game winning streak was snapped at the hand of the Islanders. As well, it was a heart-breaking 1-0 defeat as this year’s Central Division All-Star captain Nathan Mackinnon missed a gaping net in the final seconds which would have knotted the game at one.

Colorado coach Jared Bednar has done a marvelous job so far, leading the Avalanche to a 25-15-4 record, and expect for his team to get shots off from all over the ice early and often.

For the Rangers, there is some hope though because after a three game losing stint on the road, they return back home to the Garden where they have been able to defeat quality teams such as the Capitals and Penguins in pretty dominating fashion.

About the Rangers

Allowing 43 goals over the past eleven games, the New York Rangers know where they need help the most; in their own end. If they cannot clean that up at least partially tonight, they’re inevitably going to ride a four game winless drought.

Where the Rangers can take advantage tonight is on the powerplay. They were unable to convert on the man advantage against the Canucks, and that really hurt the Blueshirts. Luckily for David Quinn and company, the Avalanche only have a 78.8% success rate on the penalty kill.

Just like in most games this season, the big dogs are gonna need to step it up. 2020 All-Star Artemi Panarin has failed to register a point in his last two games and although not a big deal for most, the Rangers need him to produce night in and night out. The same goes for Mika Zibanejad who hasn’t been able to tickle the twine of late. When these two superstars produce there are always two results; the Rangers win or keep it close until the final whistle blows.

I’ve heard a lot of people complaining of how its a terrible decision to have Igor Shesterkin debut against such a high powered offense and it’s going to be a nightmare when he faces a flurry of shots, but I actually disagree with that notion.  Igor was called up for a reason, not to get action against struggling teams, but management needs to prepare him for what is to come as a  franchise goaltender in the NHL and especially behind a Rangers defense. For all we know, he may have a 45 save shutout or he may allow 6 goals in two periods. But that’s besides the point. The 4th round 2014 draft pick is the future of the New York Rangers, and his time to show that starts tonight.

The Avalanche are pretty top-heavy, with a boatload of talent on debatably the best line in hockey at the forefront.

Nathan Mackinnon is looking like he might win the Art Ross Trophy as he has 64 points and Gabe Landeskog is the man that energizes the whole line.  They are joined by Joonas Doonskoi, allowing the team to move Miko Rantanen  to the second line. He has 31 points despite only playing in 27 games.

And it’s hard not to forget that the Avs possess the probable Calder trophy winner in defenseman Cale Makar.  At only 21-years-old, he is a bonafide number one powerplay quarterback and a top pairing defenseman. The “kid” has 32 points and when he and Nathan Mackinnon are on the ice, opposing defenses need to be lucky to contain them.

One of the Avalanche’s biggest advantage is on the powerplay. They are roaming around 20%, which although might not seem so great, to see it in action is a spectacle. Nathan MacKinnon on the left dot, Makar at the point, Rantanen at the opposite circle, it’s deadly.

As well, their goalie Philipp Grubauer has had no trouble adjusting to a full-time starter role after Colorado lost Semyon Varlomov to the Islanders in free agency,

Grubauer, 28, has 12 wins and has a respectable .911 save percentage in addition to his 2.87 GAA.

With the Avalanche being shutout to start their New York road trip, I wouldn’t be stunned to see close to fifty shots being thrown at Igor Shesterkin.


Stuff you should know

  • Artemi Panarin still holds the seventh spot in the NHL’s scoring race despite being held pointless in the previous two contests
  • Adam Fox has five points in his last three games
  • Steven Fogarty will once again play as the Blueshirts’ fourth line left winger
  • The Rangers’ third line of Brett Howden, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko, played a combined total of nearly 45 minutes against the Canucks
  • Brenan Lemieux is still recovering from a wrist injury and will not be available
  • Igor Shesterkin has already been named to the AHL All- Star Game and will be making his debut 2,019 days after being drafted
  • The Rangers have a record  of 2-1-1 record on NBC networks this season


Three keys to winning

  1. Do not let Nathan MacKinnon have time and space. If you give the former #1 overall pick even an inch of free space, he will either roof a wrister or find an open man to get a great chance on goal.
  2.  Be disciplined.  If any Ranger commits one unnecessary penalty tonight, not only will David Quinn probably bench them, but Jared Bednar’s powerplay will put forth an immense amount of pressure around the crease.
  3. Control puck possession. Whether it is that dangerous Colorado first line or depth scorers like Andre Burakovsky, any chances the Avalanche have will turn into quality ones. Limiting the shots on Shesterkin and getting pucks deep will severely increase the Blueshirts’ chance of winning this one.

Game Info

You’ll be able to watch this inter-conference showdown on NBCSN at 7:30.  The radio call is on ESPN Radio 1050AM.

Join the live conversation on Blue Line Station during the game. The live thread should be up shortly!