Whenever your clear-cut number one goalie goes down to injury, you get worried. Especially given the recent history for Igor Shesterkin with the Rangers.
The latest concern is over a strange leg injury he sustained after making a save with players in front during what turned out to be a shared shutout with backup Alex Georgiev. Credit Georgiev for being able to come into a tough situation and be sharp enough to make nine saves in relief to help the Rangers blank the Sharks 1-0 at MSG.
It’s awfully tough to get too excited when Shesterkin got hurt. He’s so vital to the team’s success. Establishing himself as one of the better goalies in the NHL, the 25-year old Russian writhed in pain after flexing his leg while down on his stomach. Nobody made contact with him.
It looked like he tweaked something. It could be a groin, or something else. Early indications from coach Gerard Gallant is that it isn’t as bad as it looked. For the team’s sake, let’s hope so. Shesterkin has been brilliant in his third season. He entered with 12 wins. By making 19 saves before giving way to Georgiev with 14:52 left in regulation, he earned his 13th victory and improved his GAA to 2.05 with a .937 save percentage.
Seeing Shesterkin unable to put any weight on his leg as trainer Jim Ramsay helped him to the locker room, was very worrisome. He’s had setbacks the previous two seasons that caused him to miss time. It brings into question if he can stay healthy over a full season. If it isn’t a long-term injury as Gallant hinted, they obviously will be cautious. They need him.
Now with a season best five-game winning streak thanks to a Ryan Strome power play goal in the first period, the Rangers are off to a 15-4-3 start. The 33 points in 22 games is good enough for second place in the Metropolitan Division. Entering Saturday’s 8 PM home match versus Chicago, they trail the Capitals by two points with two games in hand. Two better than the Hurricanes in the same amount of games.
That’s a good place to be with Shesterkin down. Now comes the key part. Before he stopped the remaining nine San Jose shots to join Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta as the only other Rangers’ goalie duo to share a shutout, Georgiev entered with over a 4.00 GAA and .858 save percentage. He’s scheduled to start tonight.
In order to survive, they’re gonna need Georgiev to play with more confidence and consistency. Areas that he’s struggled with since last season. Even if I’m not too high on him at the moment due to his drop off and postgame reaction the other night, he has to step up.
That means making the key stops like he did to thwart Logan Couture on a San Jose power play to keep the team in front. It was a positive sign when Georgiev made a quick reflex save to deny the Sharks’ captain off a good Timo Meier set up. He made a couple of big saves to help preserve the win. Now, he must do it over 60 minutes.
One thing Steve Valiquette said afterwards is that when a goalie is in a slump, they just have to play. Not over think things. Something that Georgiev has been doing. If you go out and play, the results are usually better. This new challenge could be his last chance. We’ll see how he reacts.
Obviously, knowing Shesterkin won’t be available for Saturday night, that means we’ll see Keith Kinkaid summoned from Hartford. Judging from his sarcastic response to a Vince Mercogliano tweet, he’s chomping at the bit to return.
Kinkaid has done well with the Wolf Pack this year. With another game postponed due to COVID outbreak in the AHL, the 32-year old veteran is 9-1-1 with a 2.59 GAA and .916 save percentage. In nine appearances in ’21 for the Blueshirts, he won three games with an identical GAA (2.59) and .898 save percentage. It would be another opportunity for the former Devils cult hero to play a role in the NHL on a good team.
In regards to the game played at 33rd and 8th over Penn Station, it was a pretty entertaining watch. For a 1-0 score, you wouldn’t have known it. Each goalie came up with good saves. Particularly Adin Hill, who got his second straight start on consecutive days due to James Reimer being under the weather. His biggest stops came when he robbed Chris Kreider on a power play and later Artemi Panarin on the doorstep to give his team a chance.
Shesterkin made a few quality saves during a more wide open first period in which both teams had 10 shots apiece. But the only goal came off the stick of Strome on the power play.
After klutz Patrik Nemeth shoved Noah Gregor into Shesterkin following a strong move to the net, he was given a cheesy goaltender interference call. Yes, he couldn’t stop. But let’s just say Nemeth didn’t exactly help. How they signed him to that contract I’ll never understand.
After moving the puck around well, finally Mika Zibanejad got it over for Adam Fox up top. All he did was hand the puck over to an isolated Strome for a rare opening. He doesn’t shoot often. But this time, he went to a slap shot and gave it a drive where Mama hides the cookies. To quote the Buffalo Sabres legend Rick Jeanneret. It was a great shot Hill had no chance on.
Strome’s fourth from Fox and Zibanejad came at 6:03 of the first period. Who knew that would be the only goal? True enough, I told Rangers buddy Sean McCaffrey that I felt this would be a low scoring game due to two hot number one goalies. I’m not a gambler, but I said take the under on the Total. Go figure it eventually became a battle of backups with Reimer sick and Shesterkin leaving at the 45:06 mark of the third.
Despite goals coming at a premium, it was an enjoyable game. You had both teams exchange chances in the more free wheeling first. That included another near miss from the power skating Julien Gauthier. A young player who continues to show promise, but isn’t yet able to finish off some of his moves.
I felt that third line with Fil Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere played well. They generated chances off the cycle and drew a penalty. It would be nice to see them get one. Gallant rewarded them with a late shift protecting the lead. That shows a leap of faith. Something we didn’t see under the previous coach.
I want to commend the Sharks for how hard they played. It’s tough playing a back-to-back. Even if they had to work overtime to get the 2-1 win over the punchless Islanders, they played a tighter checking second where the shots were tougher. Maybe coach Bob Boughner deserves some credit for their defensive improvement.
With San Jose, you know they got big weapons Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, who seems to be more like his former self offensively. He entered with five goals including the overtime winner the previous night. He can still be attacked behind his net as we saw a forechecking Kaapo Kakko do late in the third period. But Karlsson still has the quick stick and good shot which he used to force Shesterkin into a nice glove save.
The thing about the Sharks is it isn’t only the vets which include Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Youngsters Mario Ferraro and Jacob Middleton are playing key roles on the blue line. Both are solid defensively. Ferraro missed a bit in the first, but returned and was okay. If former Shark Barclay Goodrow can play with a black eye after a scary puck he took in the win over the Flyers, then you knew Ferraro would be back. Hockey player!
One storyline was Kevin Labanc being back in town for the Sharks’ trio of games in the metro area. A Brooklyn native who also played a bit out here in Staten Island before starring for the New Jersey Rockets and eventually the Barrie Colts, the ’14 sixth round pick has a top six role with the teal. A key shooter on the power play, he got a good scoring chance during the second. One-on-one with Shesterkin, Labanc just missed tying the game. That would’ve been a sweet homecoming. He had 10 people in the stands.
Even though the shots were 7-6 Sharks, I liked the physicality. Jacob Trouba laid a clean open ice hit on Labanc, who luckily didn’t land flush on the boards. One thing about Trouba. He plays an honest game. He led the Rangers with five hits in over 22 steady minutes. So far, his third year on Broadway has been the best. Hopefully, he keeps it up.
The Rangers had some chances to make it an easier win. But they failed to capitalize on a pair of power plays. One midway through when Lafreniere got a step on Vlasic, who pulled him down. The latter coming when Panarin stole the puck from Karlsson behind the San Jose net and was taken down.
It was the third and final man-advantage where Zibanejad looked to have a cutting Panarin all set up. But somehow, a sliding Hill got across to make a desperation pad save to shutdown the tuck at the far post. It was a great save. The one on Kreider that came earlier was his finest. He was beat on that, but never gave up. No wonder Hill earned the game’s Third Star.
It was a very evenly played game. I don’t know how much I’d read into that. The Sharks are much better than the defense optional Flyers. Maybe that explains it. They sure had enough left in the Shark Tank to challenge the Rangers.
If there’s one takeaway, it’s how they rallied around Georgiev. Following the Shesterkin injury, they immediately picked up the attack time with two strong shifts in a row. By that, they ramped up the forecheck and really tried to go for the knockout blow. That showed a lot of character.
After a routine stop to get into the game, Georgiev was called upon on the penalty kill. With K’Andre Miller off for a trip on Couture, he flat out denied his power play bid from the slot with a nice kick save to cheers. That had to feel good for him. He needs a confidence boost. Hopefully, he’ll be able to carry it over against the more offensive minded Blackhawks. Talk about a gutless organization. I’ll get into it in a different post.
The third again saw each side get their shots through. It was 11 up. A bit different from the second. When push came to shove, the Blueshirts shutdown the neutral zone the final five minutes. With Gallant going down to his top two pairs (who can blame him with how scary Nemeth is), the foursome of Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Trouba and Miller did a good job. Fox bounced back with a better game by breaking up several plays.
If there’s one thing I loved is how Turk used all four lines. He didn’t shorten up with the forwards. They all played and did a good job defensively by being responsible. You had Lafreniere persevere after his dump in was deflected by a Sharks player much to the blindness of Joe Micheletti. It was his third game working in a row due to filling in for Butch Goring (shoulder surgery).
The players all took away the middle of the ice and chipped pucks in deep. They defended very well. This was appreciated by the fans. One thing about the knowledgeable fans. They love good team defense in such close games. It was hard fought.
When Meier got off one final shot off a rush that missed its target, the buzzer sounded to more applause. The players congratulated Georgiev, who had to feel relieved. His last win was on Nov. 14 versus the Devils. He was pulled after two periods in the wild home win over Buffalo on Nov. 21. Now, he’ll look to find the form he once had behind Henrik Lundqvist and Shesterkin.
For a Friday night, The Garden had a good crowd. I just checked the attendance. They listed it at 16,726. One of the biggest so far. I guess I’ll find out from Sean M how good it was. He attended it. I know he seemed a little down on my commentary towards Igor. But it’s a legit concern. The Rangers need him to stay healthy. Let’s hope for the best.
THREE STARS 🌟 OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Adam Fox, NYR (primary helper on Strome tally, 3 blocks, 3 attempts, takeaway in 25:14)
2nd 🌟 Ryan Strome, NYR (power play goal, 4th of season, 4 SOG in 7 attempts, 6-and-6 on face-offs in 18:34)
1st 🌟 Adin Hill, Sharks (26 saves on 27 shots, kept it close)
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