Igor Shesterkin got his first win of the season in the Rangers’ overtime victory over Buffalo on Thursday, but instead of coming back with Shesterkin Saturday, against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opener of the Blueshirts’ three-game homestand, coach David Quinn chose to start his other goaltender, Alexandar Georgiev, instead.
The plan, at least for the next little while, Quinn said, will be to alternate goaltenders, regardless of how they play, or wins or losses, in an attempt to build up both goalies’ confidence – and their games.
"Listen, you know, our goaltending – we’ve got two really good ones,’’ Quinn said after the Rangers’ morning skate on Saturday. "Obviously, the circumstances have changed here since last year, without having Hank (Lundqvist) here. I just thought, for short term, we're going to go every other day with these guys for a while, and see how it goes, regardless of how they play. And just give them a little bit clearer picture, and maybe a little more comfort in what the schedule is, and who's going to play.
"I don’t know how long we're going to do it,’’ he said. "But that's going to be the approach, in the short term.’’
For most of the last 15 years, the Rangers didn’t have to figure out how to use their goaltenders. It was elementary: Lundqvist, the face of the team, played whenever and as much as he needed to, and what was best for him was best for the team. That began to change over the last two seasons, and at some point last year, after Shesterkin came up from the minor leagues and dominated, Quinn transitioned away from Lundqvist as his No. 1 goalie and gave the job to Shesterkin, who went 10-2, with a 2.52 goals-against average, and a .932 save percentage in his 12 starts.
But Lundqvist was still there, and, Quinn has suggested, served as something of a security blanket, or safety net for the two young Russians. When Shesterkin missed time with broken ribs after a car crash, Georgiev got to play most of the time he missed. But when Shesterkin came up injured just before Game 1 of the Rangers’ play-in series against Carolina in the NHL’s August restart, Quinn turned to Lundqvist for the first two games of the best-of-five series.
Lundqvist is gone now, though. He was bought out of the final year of his contract in September, leaving Shesterkin, 25, and Georgiev, 24, to carry the load. And while everyone expected Shesterkin to be the main man, he hasn’t been stellar to start the season. He wasn’t good in his first start, against the Islanders on opening night, and in the Rangers’ last game against the Penguins, in Pittsburgh Jan. 24, he allowed two third-period goals – an awful one by Jared McCann to tie it, and a moderately difficult one-timer from Jake Guentzel for the winner – as the Rangers blew a 2-1 lead and lost, 3-2.
Shesterkin was much better in beating Buffalo Thursday, stopping 23 of 25 shots, but entering Saturday Georgiev (1-2, 2.66 GAA, .896 save percentage, one shutout) had roughly the same numbers as Shesterkin (1-2-1, 2.73, .894, no shutouts).
Quinn could have stayed with Shesterkin and tried to get him hot, but the coach has said all along that the Rangers will need two goalies this season, and he opted instead to play Georgiev, to try and get him going.
"It's always nice to have one (goalie) you can ride, for sure,’’ Quinn said. "That's the endgame. But, again, these are different circumstances, for both these guys. And I think this, in the short term, it gives us a chance to maybe solidify our goaltending situation, going every other day with these guys.’’