The New York Rangers are headed back to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Rangerstown is getting pumped and excited. The Blueshirts are nursing old wounds, resting up and preparing for battle. The team is a collective, foregoing the prospects of individual statistics for the greater good of the team. Chris Kreider, for instance, just two goals shy of tying the franchise record did not dress for game 81.
But what of the the most individual position in all of team sports? How do the New York Rangers goaltenders look headed into the playoffs? Where do the coaches draw the line between rested and staying sharp? This season has shown to be a challenge for Alexandar Georgiev as he has received far too much rest to be effective at the NHL level while playing behind Igor Shesterkin.
How much is too much?
Shesterkin, on the flip side has played in more games this season than any in his professional career. Prior to the 53 games he has played this year, the most he had played in North America was 38 games, split between the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Rangers in the COVID shortened 2019-20 season. Overall professionally, his previous career high came in 2016-17 while playing in the KHL. As a 22 year old, Shesterkin played in 44 games, including 10 playoff games, tending goal for St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL.
In each of the seasons where he had played on a more restricted schedule, Shesterkin’s numbers were fantastic, as were his numbers earlier this season. While he is still the league leader in Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (Sv%), his play over the past month and a half has slipped far below the heights he reached earlier in the season. The graphic below shows the comparison between his first 37 games played and his last 16.
The numbers recorded over his last 16 games are still top 10 in the NHL during that span, dating back to March 10, 2022. However, it should be noted that Shesterkin most recent statistics are buoyed by three shutouts, leaving him with a .893 Sv% over the remaining 13 games. The good news is that during this stretch the Rangers have maintained pace and challenged for first place into the final week of the season. Additionally with his overall numbers Shesterkin should still be the front runner for the Vezina Trophy. The bad news however, is that this slump, has probably cost him his chances to win the Hart Trophy.
The question now for Gerard Gallant and Benoit Allaire is this, do you play Shesterkin against the Washington Capitals tomorrow night? On the one hand, you play him in the hopes to sharpen his game. On the other, you rest your starting goaltender who’s body, endurance and conditioning are in uncharted territory. Another consideration is that the New York Rangers are secure in second place in the Metropolitan division, though tomorrow night’s game may directly factor in to who they play in the first round.
The New York Rangers need top tier Igor
All of this is a delicate balancing act that Gallant and Allaire must navigate through. The only certainty being that much of the New York Rangers playoff success depends on which version of Igor Shesterkin patrols the crease.