Igor Shesterkin started in goal for the Rangers Tuesday against the Washington Capitals at the Garden, and, with the way the schedule is set up for the next couple of weeks, the 25-year-old Russian could be in line to start a bunch of games in a row as the Blueshirts try to claw their way back into the playoff picture.
"There's certainly an opportunity for him to do that,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said of Shesterkin going on a run of consecutive starts. "That being said, we do have faith in our goalies, and, to me, it's gonna be game-by-game, see how things go. But he certainly is in a position where he might be able to do that.’’
Following Tuesday’s game, the Rangers go to Buffalo for games on Thursday and Saturday, before returning to the Garden next week for games next Tuesday and Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their next back-to-back set is next Thursday against the Penguins and Friday against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
So, with at least one day off before each of their next four games, Shesterkin — who returned from a 10-game absence with a groin injury to start games last Thursday and Saturday in Philadelphia — could potentially start up to five games in a row. In his two-year NHL career, for a variety of reasons, he hasn’t yet started more than three straight.
But if Shesterkin is going to live up to expectations and truly become the heir to Rangers icon Henrik Lundqvist as the Blueshirts’ next great goaltender, he is going to have to prove that he can handle the physical and mental challenge of playing a heavy load of games.
Shorter term, if the Rangers are going to challenge seriously to finish among the top four teams in the East Division to make the playoffs, they will more than likely need Shesterkin to not only play most nights, but be excellent every time out.
On Sunday, after the Rangers lost to the Capitals in Washington, 5-4, with Keith Kinkaid in net, Quinn was asked how he intends to manage the always-uncomfortable three-goalie situation the Rangers are currently in, with Shesterkin, Kinkaid and Alexandar Georgiev on the roster.
The coach had gone through the three-goalie thing the second half of last season, after Shesterkin came up from the minor leagues to join the team with Lundqvist and Georgiev already on the roster.
Quinn acknowledged that having three goaltenders is "not easy for anybody,’’ but said dealing with the situation last year prepared him for handling it again this year. Last year, he tried to play all three goalies in the beginning, but eventually settled on just playing Shesterkin and Georgiev down the stretch.
"I think we did learn some lessons last year in managing three goalies,’’ he said. "But really, the simplicity of it all, is the guy that gives you the best chance to win will play.’’
Based on the numbers this season, that guy on most nights will be Shesterkin. Entering Tuesday, Shesterkin had a goals-against average of 2.34, and a save percentage of .924, while Georgiev, 25, had a GAA of 2.92 and a save percentage of .897, and Kinkaid, 31, a 2.61 GAA and .891 save percentage.
Shesterkin will need to prove he can stay on the ice, though. Besides the 10 games he missed this season, he missed games last season with a sprained ankle, as well as broken ribs suffered in a car accident, and a groin strain in the bubble in Toronto in the summer.
Quinn isn’t concerned about that, though.
"I think he proved, through those two games that he played when he came back, he certainly looked healthy,’’ he said.