SAN JOSE, Calif. — Goaltending had not been a problem for the Rangers on this road trip. Alexandar Georgiev played well, did his job and gave them a chance to win.
But seeing Igor Shesterkin on the ice for the morning skate Thursday before their late game against the Sharks certainly gave the Rangers a welcome lift.
"Of course,’’ defenseman Adam Fox said. "I think whenever you see a guy who has an impact that he does on our team, it gives everyone a little jolt . . . I think Georgie’s played really, really well. And, you know, either one of those two we have confidence in. But you see what Igor can do. [And] whenever you get a regular back and someone like him, I think it obviously boosts the team a little bit.’’
Shesterkin officially exited COVID-19 protocol on Thursday and stepped right into the lineup against the Sharks. He made 37 saves and earned his third shutout of the season in the Rangers’ 3-0 win at SAP Center.
"A lot of the credit has to go to Shesterkin,’’ acting coach Kris Knoblauch said. "You know, there was a lot of Grade A scoring chances. Shesterkin came up big, made some big saves.
"Also being able to play with the lead, I think, you know that shorthanded goal that we scored allowed us to have a little bit of comfort, and yes, it’s always easier when you’ve got that lead.''
Said Shesterkin, "In the first period I was a little nervous, but when I stopped a couple shots, nerves go away. I just tried to help everybody.’’
The win evened the Rangers’ record on the road trip at 2-2. The trip will end Saturday in Philadelphia against the Flyers.
Chris Kreider had two goals, the second one the 200th of his NHL career, and rookie Braden Schneider had his first in his NHL debut.
The first shorthanded goal of Kreider’s career gave the Rangers the lead at 10:25 of the first period. Schneider, 20, who was called up from AHL Hartford on Tuesday, made it 2-0 at 1:27 of the third period. Kreider added an empty-net goal with 27.3 seconds remaining.
Schneider’s goal, a shot from the high slot that was assisted by Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil, was not only his first NHL goal but his first professional goal. He had played 24 games in Hartford this season, and two last season, without scoring one.
Said Schneider, "I thought our whole team had a really solid game tonight and Shesterkin was unbelievable and I was in the right place at the right time and I couldn’t have drawn it up any better myself.’’
The Rangers (24-10-4) played the game without forward Alexis Lafreniere, who went into COVID protocol before the game. That allowed Queens native Anthony Greco to make his Rangers debut.
Shesterkin (16-4-2) went into protocol last Thursday, just before the Rangers’ 5-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the opener of the road trip. Upon his return, he did not have a practice with the team, but he had skated by himself Wednesday in New York, according to Knoblauch, who served his second game behind the bench in place of Gerard Gallant, who is in COVID protocol. Shesterkin met the team in San Jose and took shots at the morning skate.
Knoblauch, the Hartford coach, spoke glowingly at the morning skate of Shesterkin, whom he coached in Hartford for the first half of the 2019-20 season, the goalie’s first season in North America.
"I don’t think he gets enough attention,’’ Knoblauch said. "I know, probably around New York he does, but around the NHL, when you talk about the elite goalies in the league, maybe he gets mentioned once in a while. But I think he should be in that conversation all the time.’’
Knoblauch was especially impressed by the attitude and work ethic Shesterkin showed while playing for Hartford after failing to make the Rangers in his first training camp in 2019.
"Here’s a guy who had so much success in the KHL coming over to North America, expecting to be in the NHL [and] he’s going to be in Hartford,’’ he said. "The Rangers’ organization knows, a lot of times those players aren’t very happy with that, want to go back [to Russia].’’
Shesterkin’s time in going to Hartford with a positive attitude was in contrast with forward Vitaly Kravtsov, who went to Hartford with the goalie but balked at playing in the AHL then, and again when he was assigned there last fall.
Kravtsov left the Rangers and went back to Russia both times. Shesterkin stayed, played at an AHL All-Star level in Hartford, was called up to the Rangers in the second half of the season and eventually replaced Henrik Lundqvist as the Blueshirts’ No. 1 goaltender.