New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin skates to the net...

New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin skates to the net after a break in action in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Igor Shesterkin has not been at his best recently, and his level of play has taken some of his confidence down with it.

The Rangers goaltender and reigning Vezina Trophy winner said so himself after practice on Wednesday.

Asked whether his confidence is where he wants it to be or where it should be, he said, “Of course not. I try to work, try to stay positive, so hopefully everything gets better.”

Is that something he needs to build in practice, or in games? “I need to get some confidence from practice, and bring all of this to the game,” he said.

The matter of Shesterkin’s play came to a head on Monday, when the Jets beat the Rangers, 4-1, behind a strong effort from Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

The Rangers outshot the Jets, 51-21. Shesterkin declined to speak to reporters about it afterward. “I wasn’t happy, of course,” he said on Wednesday. “We lose game. Hellebuyck played great.”

What about his level of play in general? “Playing not good, but still we’ve got the win sometimes,” he said. “I try to work on my game.”

All of this is relative when it comes to Shesterkin, who was so spectacular last season that being merely good seems worse in comparison.

He is 25-9-7 with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage, and he was an NHL All-Star. But he has given up four goals in three consecutive starts and since the break has allowed 18 goals in five starts with a save percentage of .865.

Coach Gerard Gallant was told of Shesterkin’s comments before he spoke to reporters himself. So when he asked whether he has concerns about the goaltender’s confidence Gallant was ready with an answer: “I guess he does, but I don’t.”

The Rangers are in a 22-5-4 stretch.

“He hasn’t been at his best; we all know that,” Gallant said. “But we’re still winning, and that’s the bottom line for me. He’s going to get better. Everybody goes through little parts of the season where you’re not playing at your best.

“Am I worried about it? Not one bit. He’ll be fine. He’s our best player.”

Gallant said the pressure of trying to live up to last season’s standard is “too high for anybody.”

He added that Shesterkin has been the victim of bad luck, too, including on the first two goals against the Jets, after which he played well.

“He probably lacks a little confidence because of a little unluckiness, for me,” Gallant said. “When I watch it, it’s unluckiness more than him playing bad. I don’t think he’s playing bad by any means.

“Nobody’s going to have an 82-game perfect season – not the players, not the defense, nobody. So he went through it a little bit and he’ll work hard and he’ll get back in practice and when he plays his next game he’ll be ready to go.”

Shesterkin said thoughts of last season do not weigh on him. “No, I don’t think about it,” he said. “It was last season. Right now, it’s different time, different season.”

He spoke to three reporters in the dressing room on Wednesday, but in general has not been chatty with the news media.

“I don’t like to talk too much,” the 27-year-old Russian said. “I just want to play game and get back on winning road.”

The good news is that the playoffs are seven weeks away (the regular season ends on April 14).

This is a better time for a slump than then.

“Yeah, I hope everything gets back,” Shesterkin said, “We have one more month 'til playoffs. So everything is in my hands.”

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