Dear Benoit Allaire,
This letter goes out to you rather than Gerard Gallant because whenever asked how he concluded who the game’s starting goaltender is, he refers to you, the goaltending coach, as the man who rightfully makes that decision.
It’s why despite seeing Igor Shesterkin and the team get shelled into submission 6-3 at the Washington Capitals on Saturday for their fourth straight defeat, the plea is to start #31 again ahead of Sunday’s 5 PM MSG tilt against the Los Angeles Kings.
Jaroslav Halak is a solid backup stopper and has earned admiration for his recent seven-game heater, which should make him due for an increase in pay this Summer from the $1.5 million he received last offseason. Still, the reality is Shesterkin will be your guy in the postseason, and the only way he snaps out of his spiral is if you continue to play him.
While the reigning Vezina trophy winner hasn’t been himself recently, his struggles officially reached rock bottom when he was pulled following the second period of Saturday’s contest after surrendering five goals on 22 shots. The poor defensive coverage on those tallies didn’t help, but Igor still skated to the bench with a -1.84 Goals Saved Above Expected on the day.
It represented the first time in the Russian’s three-year career he’s yielded four or more goals in four consecutive starts, underscoring the epitome of a defense that has collectively allowed 25 goals over the previous six games. Shesterkin though has more than earned his chances of playing back-backs, which has only happened once this season.
Connor Hellebuyck took advantage of his opportunity on Monday and, on a back-back, outplayed the reigning Vezina Trophy winner with a showstopping 51 saves. At the same time, Shesterkin allowed four goals on 21 shots. Following the game, Gallant claimed the goaltender’s struggles were due to him not receiving enough playing time, as it represented just his fifth start of February largely due to the All-Star break.
Yet, three days later, for Thursday’s game at the Detroit Red Wings, it was Halak, not Shesterkin, who handled the net in their 4-1 defeat. While New York likely would’ve lost the contest regardless due to their listless play, it would’ve allowed Igor the chance to resurrect himself a mere 69 hours after he refused to talk to the media following Monday’s loss.
The idea of avoiding playing goaltenders two days straight began in 2013, according to the Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn with Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Philadelphia Flyers tabbed their $ 3 million starting goaltender seven times in both games of a back-to-back situation. They went 5-2 on the finishing end of those back-to-backs, despite Bryzgalov’s .890 save percentage, 10 points shy of the .900 mark he posted on the year.
From that campaign forward, the league-wide rate of goaltenders receiving the nod twice in 48 hours from 2014-2019, dropped drastically from 9% to 2.6%.
While proper rest does matter over the grind of an 82-game schedule, we’ve reached the point of the year where the marathon has lessened into a sprint, meaning it’s time to loosen the restraints and at least from now until the Rangers have mathematically secured a playoff berth, start Shesterkin as much as possible.
Look no further than Igor’s last battery mate Alexander Georgiev, that you’ll only improve by playing as the netminder has appeared in 40 games this season for the Colorado Avalanche and is enjoying a .919 save% with a +15.4 Goals Saved Above Expected after appearing in 33 tilts all of last year for the Rangers, where he had a .898 save% and a -6.8 Goals Saved Above Expected.
We’ve seen across the league top goaltenders such as Carter Hart, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Ilya Sorokin thrive when pushed to their limits, which we may see more of as the NHL’s playoff push intensifies.
While New York does have a solid grip on the third spot in the Metropolitan division with a 33-17-9 record accumulating 75 points with a.636 points percentage and is unlikely to take home the division crown given the play of the red-hot Hurricanes and Devils, it would be easy not to feel the need to exert yourselves as you prepare for the playoffs, especially after the acquisition of All-Star Vladimir Tarasenko and the seemingly inventible one of Patrick Kane.
Yet as Chris Kreider said following Saturday’s game, “I think after that (Seven games winning streak), we thought we could show up and win games; we’re playing stubborn hockey. Playing against a team that played a 1-3-1, we refused to play simple hockey, just got it in, and force the defense to turn and retrieve the puck. It starts with the veterans. It starts with me; I’m not someone who should be handling the puck in the neutral zone. It’s on me to get it in. I didn’t do that enough.”
Yes, while the Rangers defensively have been lackluster to the point where entering the nation’s capital, they ranked 8th in the NHL since January 1st by Expected Goals Against per 60:00 and 9th at even-strength, Shesterkin’s recent outings have yet to aid matters. In contrast, he masked those deficiencies last year and led the league in stolen wins.
In his most recent interview, the netminder cited shaky mechanics and a loss of confidence as reasons for his poor play. As Allaire should know, having been the Blueshirts’ goaltending coach since 2005, those issues can only be fixed through less resting time and more playing time from Sunday until the real season begins on April 17th.
“I hope everything gets back to how it was before Shesterkin said earlier this week, “We have one more month until playoffs, so everything is in my hands.” You’ve heard your tender MR Allaire; the time has come to loosen those restraints and let the Shesterkinator cook; do as you must.