Igor Shesterkin is ready, but Gerard Gallant goes with Jaroslav Halak in Rangers' return
Igor Shesterkin played 10 minutes of three-on-three hockey in the NHL All-Star Game on Saturday afternoon after messing around in the All-Star Skills Competition on Friday night.
The 27-year-old goalie had a lot of fun at his first NHL All-Star Weekend, and he was rested enough to have started in goal Monday when the Rangers returned from the All-Star break with a game against the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden.
But coach Gerard Gallant opted to go with backup Jaroslav Halak instead.
“He was pretty good his last game,’’ Gallant said of Halak at Monday’s morning skate at the Rangers’ Greenburgh practice facility. “That’s the thinking.’’
Halak was the Rangers’ best player in their last game, a 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 27, making 33 saves and earning first star of the game honors.
The win was the fifth in a row for Halak, who started 0-5-1 but had evened his record at 6-6-1 by the time the Rangers arrived at the break.
Overall, Halak, 37, carried a 2.56 goals-against average and .908 save percentage into Monday’s game, his 14th start of the season. Beginning with his first win of the season, Nov. 30 in Ottawa against the Senators, he had gone 6-1 with a 2.01 GAA and a .930 save percentage.
So with 33 games to be played in 67 days to close the regular season, Halak figures to be an important supporting player for the Rangers as Gallant and goalie coach Benoit Allaire plot how to manage Shesterkin’s ice time to keep him fresh for the playoffs.
Beyond the game-every-other-day pace the rest of the way, the Rangers (27-14-8 entering Monday) will have eight sets of back-to-back games and eight sets of three games in four nights.
Shesterkin was asked Sunday if he is prepared to handle a heavy workload of games down the stretch.
“I think everybody is ready,’’ he said. “We know what we want to do. We want to play playoff games, so we have to play the same hockey — maybe a little bit better — because if you want to win the Cup, you have to be the best. So I think everybody’s ready for that.’’
Shesterkin, who is 21-8-7 with a 2.45 GAA and .918 save percentage, said he feels rested and well, “but I’m not happy about my game.’’
He said he didn’t play to his standards in the first part of the season.
“A great goalie can play like every game very good — maybe sometimes it’s not his day, but he tries to stay like, on one level,’’ he said. “But in this season, I would have two good games, one bad. And I just want to like stay on one line.’’
After a disappointing loss to the Devils on Nov. 28, Shesterkin told reporters he was “ashamed’’ of how he was playing. Since that time, he has gone 11-4-4 with a 2.36 GAA and .922 save percentage.
Gallant brushed off the question of how he will try to keep Shesterkin fresh down the stretch, but he did say that Halak playing as well as he has since the slow start helps immensely.
“We’ll just take it one game at a time,’’ Gallant said. “We’re not going to worry about that.
“Like I said, when you’ve got two goalies playing well, you don’t worry about that. That doesn’t cross my mind one bit.
“[Shesterkin]’s been fine. He had lots of rest. He had just had a week off. It doesn’t bother me one bit. Halak’s played real well, and that’s the key.’’