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Igor Shesterkin may be back soon, but Rangers are stuck in neutral zone 

New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin hydrates during

New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin hydrates during a break in the second period f an NHL hockey ogame against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

LOS ANGELES — The necessary five days have passed since Igor Shesterkin entered COVID-19 protocol last week, so there is a chance — if the 26-year-old goaltender is symptom-free and all else goes well — that he could clear protocol and practice with the Rangers Wednesday in San Jose.

Which would be great, of course. But the return of their No. 1 goaltender won’t fix the issues that plagued the Rangers in their 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings Monday at Crypto.com Arena.

Alexandar Georgiev, who has started the last four games for the Blueshirts, including the three on the current road trip, after Shesterkin went into protocol, stopped 36 of 38 shots Monday, 13 of 14 in Saturday’s 4-1 win at Anaheim and 30 of 35 in the 5-1 loss in Vegas last Thursday, when he was the Rangers’ best player in a game where they fell apart in the final 35 minutes.

"Georgie played very well for us tonight and came up with some big saves, especially late in the third period, on the penalty kill,’’ acting head coach Kris Knoblauch said after Monday’s game.

The Rangers were outshot 39-20 Monday night, including 31-15 over the first two periods when the game was lost. Knoblauch, who ran the bench in the absence of Gerard Gallant (COVID-19 protocol), wasn’t overly concerned with the shot totals, but he acknowledged that the Rangers did not play well, particularly in the second period, when they allowed two goals in the first 3:41 to fall behind 2-0 and were consistently pinned in their own zone.

"I've always coached quality [of shots] over quantity,’’ Knoblauch said. "Now, if their quality is a lot better than ours, then that's an issue. I think tonight they were the better team.’’

The biggest issue for the Rangers Monday, according to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, was their play in the neutral zone.

"I think the neutral zone gave us trouble,’’ Zibanejad said. "I didn't think we did a good enough job. And credit to them — I think they do a pretty good job with their system and the way they play it. But it wasn't just that. I think it was just a trickle-down effect, and we don't get in [to the offensive zone] and then we just played in our ‘D’ zone.’’

"I don't think was too dissimilar from that Ottawa game earlier in the year [a 3-2 win Oct. 23, in which the Rangers scored three times in the final 5:23 to overcome a 2-0 deficit], except the big difference is we didn't commit to getting through that 1-3-1 [neutral- zone trap],’’ Kreider said.

It’s not known whether Shesterkin has been able to skate during his isolation from the team, and the Rangers did not practice Tuesday. So even if Shesterkin is activated, he would only have one practice before the next game Thursday in San Jose. Just to be safe, the Rangers might choose to hold him back a couple more days, until Saturday’s road trip finale in Philadelphia.

There’s no doubt that getting Shesterkin back will strengthen their team. But right now, the Rangers have other problems.

Notes & qotes: The Rangers recalled defenseman Braden Schneider from Hartford and promoted him to the active roster. Defensemen Nils Lundkvist and Tarmo Reunanen and goaltender Tyler Wall were re-assigned to Hartford. Schneider played in 24 games for Hartford this season, with nine points and a plus-6 rating.

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