NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Rangers coach Gerard Gallant was grateful Thursday to have his team win a game in which they needed only good goaltending from Igor Shesterkin, as opposed to unbelievably good goaltending.
"It was more of a complete team game,’’ Gallant said after the Rangers beat the Predators, 3-1, and extended their winning streak to three games. "As a coach, that’s what you’d like to see. You like to see a game like tonight and your goalie was really good, but he didn’t have to be all-world for us.’’
Still, it is nice for Gallant to know that when he does need an all-world performance from his goalie, Shesterkin is capable of delivering one.
The 25-year-old Russian, who made 28 saves Thursday, had made 40 saves Monday and was by far the biggest reason the Rangers were able to beat Toronto, 2-1, in overtime. Shesterkin also was excellent the game before in a 3-1 win over Montreal.
Shesterkin, who is his own severest critic, chided himself for not being sharp early in Thursday’s game, when a first-minute shot beat him but clanged off the crossbar. After that, though, he said he woke up.
"Maybe after that moment, I got more confidence, because it hit the post,’’ he said in English to a group of reporters after the game. "And then you start getting better and better.’’
Shesterkin continues to grow in his role of the Rangers’ successor to the great Henrik Lundqvist. He is off to a fast start with a 3-0-1 record, a 1.47 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage. After not playing in the season-opening 5-1 loss in Washington, he has started four games in a row.
As well as he is playing, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to not start him every game. The Rangers will close out their four-game road trip Saturday afternoon in Ottawa, and it would be a good bet that Shesterkin will be in goal for that one, too.
Which would be fine with him.
"I think every goalie wants to play more and more,’’ he said. "And game by game, you get the confidence.’’
Gallant, who still is getting to know his players, has said he will defer to director of goaltending Benoit Allaire’s recommendations when it comes to deploying the team’s goaltenders, Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. The only practice Gallant has said he will follow is trying to avoid having a goaltender start games on consecutive days. The next time that will happen is Nov. 5-6 in Edmonton and Calgary.
The most games Shesterkin played in a single season was 39, in 2016-17 with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. Last season, he played 35 games in the NHL’s truncated 56-game season. At this rate, he’ll play a lot more than that this season.
"Obviously, he’s not going to play 80 hockey games for us,’’ Gallant said. "The other guy [Georgiev]’s a real good goaltender, too. But the way [Shesterkin’s] played the last [three] games, obviously he got points for us.’’