For five years, Alexandar Georgiev called the Big Apple home. Once an unknown goalie who wasn’t drafted, the Bulgarian honed his skills in Finland where he played for TPS Turku from age 18 to 21.
It took three years for the Rangers to notice the young netminder overseas. After posting impressive numbers for one of the premier teams in Finland that included 13 victories, a 1.70 GAA and .923 save percentage in ’16-17, Georgiev was signed as a free agent by the Rangers on July 19, 2017.
During what was a down season for the big club, Georgiev played in 37 games for the Wolf Pack where he went 14-13-2 with a 2.98 GAA and .908 save percentage. He got the call from the Rangers to come up.
In a year where Henrik Lundqvist still played most of the games, Georgiev eventually got into 10 contests in his first NHL action. Despite posting a 3.15 GAA, he went 4-4-1 with a .918 save percentage. Even on a team that missed the postseason for the first time since ’09-10, he showed enough for the organization to believe he could be a key part of the future in goal.
It’s never easy for a newcomer when they come into a tough situation. Especially during a challenging time when the Rangers made the right decision to rebuild. Fans saw many players change uniforms and go help other teams who made the playoffs.
Even harder was that the Henrik Lundqvist Era was coming to an end. The face of the Blueshirts who led them to 11 of 12 postseason appearances, three Conference Finals and their first return to the Stanley Cup Finals since ’94, Lundqvist was getting older. It wasn’t easy for him to go through the rebuilding process. Some wear and tear started to show during ’18-19. He still appeared in 52 games, but saw his GAA rise to 3.07 and save percentage lower to .907.
In his first full season, Georgiev got into 33 games. Of his 30 starts, he won 14 games while posting a lower GAA (2.91) and higher save percentage (.914) than his legendary professor. He also recorded the only two shutouts that season. David Quinn’s first on Broadway.
But just when it seemed maybe Georgiev could be the heir apparent to the King’s throne, along came top Russian prospect Igor Shestyorkin. In a season where the now 37-year old Lundqvist struggled, Quinn made the transition to Georgiev as the number one goalie.
While he for the most part played well in 34 games (32 starts) to lead the team in wins (17), he wasn’t dominant. With Shestyorkin making the quick adjustment to professional hockey by dominating in Hartford, he eventually earned a call-up to the Blueshirts. Things really changed once he got some starts.
For a while, Quinn mostly rotated Georgiev and Shestyorkin with Lundqvist sadly the third wheel in what had to be a horrible situation for the all-time winningest netminder and record holder in franchise history. As hard a decision as it was for Quinn to make, it proved to be the correct one for the team during ’19-20.
Until he got into an accident with Pavel Buchnevich, Shestyorkin was clearly the goalie taking the league by storm. He’d already built up quite the fan support prior to having to miss time due to injury. In what proved to be the unconventional Covid interrupted season where the Rangers played 70 games, Shestyorkin went 10-2-0 with a 2.52 GAA and .932 save percentage.
Georgiev was 17-14-2 with a 3.04 GAA, .910 save percentage and led the Blueshirts with two shutouts. Lundqvist recorded the final one of his brilliant career on Feb. 1, 2020 when he shutout the Red Wings 1-0 at Little Caesars Arena. He finished his career with a franchise record 64 shutouts.
When the NHL followed up the NBA by announcing the pause in the season due to the pandemic, nobody knew when sports would return. Fortunately, hockey was able to come back in August 2020. They would have a brief camp and exhibition before getting ready for the expanded playoff format. Instead of just 16 teams and 8 in each conference, it became 24 with there being Stanley Cup Qualifiers for half the field.
An injury Shestyorkin suffered in a tune-up against the Islanders lead to him being sidelined for the first two games of the Play-In series against the Hurricanes. A team they’d handled during the regular season, that wasn’t the case during the best three out of five preliminary round.
In a questionable move that probably was due to loyalty, Quinn chose to start Lundqvist over Georgiev in the first two games of the series. It didn’t go well. They were outplayed badly and dropped the first two games by scores of 3-2 and 4-1.
What ever chemistry they had prior to the stoppage when Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin were on a tear was completely gone a few months later. They weren’t the same team. When Shestyorkin was cleared to start the third game, it didn’t matter. They were a beaten team and played like it. A brutal third period saw the Hurricanes storm the Rangers for three goals with Sebastian Aho putting it away.
It was definitely an ugly way to end a feel good season. Perhaps the long layoff hurt the young team. They never were in sync. So, they got swept by Carolina in three straight to lose the Qualifier. However, somehow lucked into landing the top pick in the very complicated two part lottery system. Alexis Lafreniere was the prize.
Entering the Covid abbreviated 56-game schedule, Georgiev was hoping to get a fair chance. However, it was obvious that he felt the pressure due to Shestyorkin. He wasn’t as consistent and allowed questionable goals.
Then came the controversial incident with Tony DeAngelo that resulted in the defenseman getting dismissed by the organization. That was due to Georgiev having a miscommunication with DeAngelo that led to the Pens winning the game 5-4 in overtime on Jan. 30, 2021. DeAngelo had words for Georgiev that turned ugly with an incensed goalie going after the polarizing defenseman.
It didn’t end well. Even with the management team of John Davidson and Jeff Gorton deciding the best course of action was to end the Rangers career of DeAngelo, the incident had a long lasting effect on Georgiev. He wasn’t the same goalie. That meant more inconsistency and misplays behind the net with the puck. He definitely lost some confidence.
While he struggled, Shestyorkin continued to improve. He got into 35 games including 31 starts. Shestyorkin went 16-14-3 with a 2.62 GAA, .916 save percentage and two shutouts. Able to make the bigger saves, Igor established himself as the clear-cut number one goalie.
Georgiev played 19 games including 18 starts that season. He finished 8-7-2 with a 2.71 GAA, .905 save percentage and two shutouts. Due to some of his struggles, veteran Keith Kinkaid was called upon to make seven starts. He went 3-2-1 in nine appearances while posting a 2.59 GAA, .898 save percentage and a shutout.
The disappointing season upset Georgiev. He requested a trade. Obviously, he wanted the opportunity to become a starter in the league. He knew he wasn’t going to get it in NYC. Despite that trade request being public, the Rangers kept him on as the backup behind Shestyorkin last season.
In what was a memorable ’21-22 for Shestyorkin under new bench boss Gerard Gallant, he went 36-13-4 with a 2.07 GAA, league best .935 save percentage and six shutouts. It was eerily similar to the Vezina season Lundqvist had under John Tortorella in ’11-12. He won the Vezina as well and finished third for the Hart. Exactly the scenario for Lundqvist a decade earlier.
For Georgiev, it was up and down. He still got into 33 games making 28 starts. Despite winning 15 games and recording two shutouts, he wound up with a 2.98 GAA and .898 save percentage.
There were still some games where he was brilliant including the performance of the season when he made 44 saves in a 2-0 shutout at Carolina on 3/20/22. A game they were dominated in. In some ironic way, it reminded me of his uncanny dominance of the Maple Leafs in Toronto and his impressive play against the Islanders. When he played more, Georgiev showed the potential to become a starter.
Following the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final, Georgiev was ready to move on. With him restricted during the summer and a year away from unrestricted status, it was obvious to everyone he would get moved. He got that wish when out of all teams, the Stanley Cup champion Avalanche decided to take a chance on him. Georgiev was acquired by Colorado for two third round picks and a fifth round pick on July 7, 2022.
The Avalanche signed Georgiev to a three-year deal with an average cap hit of $3.4 million. Credit to GM Joe Sakic for not overpaying. At 26, Georgiev still has to prove himself as a number one goalie. He’s the number one for the Avs with popular veteran Pavel Francouz the backup.
So far, so good. Georgiev will return to MSG for tonight’s nationally televised game where he’ll be opposite Shestyorkin. That’ll be fun to watch. He’s made four starts so far for his new team. Georgie is 3-0-1 with a 2.76 GAA and .908 save percentage. Half of those starts have been very good. There have been some highlights where he showed the good form that made the Rangers believe in him.
Most interesting is that it’s Georgiev who enters the match with better numbers. With the Rangers struggling with consistency so far, Shestyorkin is also 3-0-1 like Georgiev. But he has a 2.75 GAA and .901 save percentage. They’ll be linked forever.
Ironically, it’s Shestyorkin who’s a couple of months older. He will turn 27 on December 30 this year. Georgiev blows out the candles on his 27th birthday next February 10. Despite having more NHL experience, he’s younger. He also was undrafted. Shestyorkin went in the fourth round 118th in 2014.
Each netminder has over 60 career wins. Of course, the numbers favor the rating Vezina winner who took his team as far as they could go last Spring with Georgiev in a ball cap on the bench. He did make his first two postseason appearances faring well in relief by stopping 29 of 31 shots. He’s sure to finally get starts next year during the playoffs.
BY THE NUMBERS
Georgiev 61-48-12 2.76 .908 8 SHO
Shestyorkin 65-29-8 2.33 .927 8 SHO