Shestyorkin gets third straight start versus Islanders


After getting the weekend off due to the Devils battling COVID-19, the Rangers return to action tonight to face the Islanders. It’ll be the third installment of the Battle Of New York at MSG. They split the first two at the start of the season.

Most were wondering what David Quinn would decide in net. Would he go to Alex Georgiev, who’s had a good record versus the Islanders, or ride the hot hand in Igor Shestyorkin? After much secrecy, it’s officially Shestyorkin who’ll get his shot at the Islanders.

For the Rangers, who are up to 4-4-2 following big wins over the Pens and Caps last week, it makes sense to stick with Shestyorkin. He earned two wins and played well. It’ll be his seventh start. He’s 3-2-1 with a 2.35 GAA and .913 save percentage in 7 games. Following a slow start, he’s won three straight decisions while allowing five goals on 84 shots. Now is the time to establish him as the starter.

Georgiev hasn’t played since the wacky 5-4 overtime loss at Pittsburgh that resulted in the altercation with since dismissed defenseman Tony DeAngelo. A polarizing player who the organization is trying to find a new team for. They’re not in a rush. If it makes sense, then there’ll be a trade. Georgiev has been given time off to settle down. He’ll definitely see time during a busy week.

Officially, there are no lineup changes. Brendan Smith skated in a non-contact jersey. There’s nothing new to report on Jack Johnson. Colin Blackwell also remains out. Here are the projected lines:

Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich

Panarin-Strome-Kakko

Lafreniere-Howden-Di Giuseppe

Lemieux-Rooney-Gauthier

Miller-Trouba

Lindgren-Fox

Hajek-Bitetto

Shestyorkin

Georgiev

The Islanders enter with an identical 4-4-2 record after defeating the Pens 4-3. They came back to win it on home ice on goals from Cal Clutterbuck and captain Anders Lee on the power play. Jordan Eberle tallied twice and Semyon Varlamov made 28 saves to earn his fourth victory.

It looks like the Isles will also have the same lineup for tonight. Varlamov gets the start.

This is what it looked like at practice yesterday.

The Islanders are missing Anthony Beauvillier. He is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Michael Dal Colle took his place on the second line and tallied two assists against Pittsburgh.

For the Rangers, Artemi Panarin looks to stay hot. Over the last four games that’s seen them go 3-0-1, he has nine points (3-6-9) including three-point nights against the Pens and Caps last week. He and Ryan Strome have found the chemistry they had last season. Strome enters with five points (3-2-5) in four games.

Kaapo Kakko joined them last game and played well. He picked up his first assist on a good defensive play in his zone to trap Zdeno Chara. That led to Panarin setting up Strome for the game-winner.

Mika Zibanejad notched a primary assist on the empty net goal from Pavel Buchnevich. It was his first point in seven games since Jan. 19. Zibanejad remains stuck on a goal with two assists. The good news is he’s looked better over the last two games. Maybe tonight he finally snaps out of it. He has one goal on 32 shots. The Rangers need him.

Since notching the exciting overtime winner at Buffalo for his first NHL goal, Alexis Lafreniere has been quiet. The top pick is currently playing on the third line with Brett Howden and Phil Di Giuseppe. He is still adjusting. Hopefully, the rookie will figure it out soon.

The fourth line that features Kevin Rooney (points in three straight), Brendan Lemieux and Julien Gauthier has played well. It’s nice to see them contributing. Rooney emphasized how they have to be a four line team to be successful.

Adam Fox has been the team’s best defenseman so far. He leads all Blueshirts D in ice time (24:29) and scoring with seven points (1-6-7). Five of his seven have come on the power play where he quarterbacks the top unit. Fox has been on for four goals for and three goals against at five-on-five. He and partner Ryan Lindgren are a solid tandem the coaching staff relies on.

K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba are the other pair that comprise the top four. They continue to improve as a tandem with Trouba pacing the team with 37 hits and his 24 blocked shots tied with Fox. That included nine in the win over Washington.

It’ll be Libor Hajek and Anthony Bitetto as the third pair for a second game in a row. They didn’t break 10 minutes with David Quinn opting to lean on his top four due to the schedule. With upcoming games against the Bruins twice and then the Flyers on Valentine’s Day, look for the third pair to receive a few more shifts at even strength.

We’ll see if the Rangers can make it three in a row.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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