Igor Shesterkin has shown, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he is the Rangers’ No. 1 goaltender, and a definitely worthy heir to the great Henrik Lundqvist.
But Alexandar Georgiev owns the Islanders. And with the dogfight the Rangers are in to try and sneak their way into the playoffs – possibly at the expense of the Islanders – how could Rangers coach David Quinn not consider starting Georgiev on Thursday against the Isles in a game the Rangers must win?
The Rangers did not practice Wednesday, so Quinn didn’t have to face that question from the media. But there’s no doubt he had to be asking the question of himself.
In the four seasons before Georgiev joined the Rangers full time in 2018-19, the Rangers went 1-9-2 against the Islanders. In the three seasons since, they have gone 7-7-1, including the 6-1 thumping they suffered in Nassau Coliseum on April 20.
Georgiev has all seven of the Rangers wins over the Islanders in that time. He is 7-2 against the Isles in his career with a 1.70 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and two shutouts, one of those coming this season. No other Rangers goalie – not Lundqvist, Shesterkin or Keith Kinkaid – owns a victory over the Islanders in the past three seasons.
There’s no debate about the fact that Shesterkin, who has started 15 of the last 19 games for the Rangers, has been better, by far, than Georgiev this season. He’s 15-11-3 overall, with a 2.42 GAA and .922 save percentage, where Georgiev overall is 8-5-2 with a 2.67 GAA and .906 save percentage.
The Rangers would not still be in the playoff hunt were it not for Shesterkin, who was simply brilliant Tuesday in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Shesterkin made 36 saves in that game, and the Rangers could not have won had he been less than amazing.
And yet, Shesterkin, who is in his first full season in the NHL, is 0-3-1 against the Isles, with a 3.75 GAA and an .878 save percentage (15 goals allowed on 123 shots in four games).
So, with six games left in the season, four points behind fourth-place Boston for the final playoff spot in the East Division and five behind the third-place Islanders, should Quinn go with his No. 1 guy Thursday, or the Islanders’ No. 1 nemesis?
Here’s what he said about Georgiev the morning of April 9, before Georgiev started in the Rangers’ 4-1 win over the Isles:
"He's a guy that's done well against the Islanders, and … the only thing that I know about goalies, is whether they stop it or not. So, he stops it, (or) seems to stop it more than he doesn't, against the Islanders. That's the only thing that I know.’’
And here’s what said the morning of April 11, on the decision to start Shesterkin that night in a game the Rangers ultimately lost in overtime, 3-2:
"Probably the decision that we went back and forth on more than any this year, who to play in goal tonight. Shesty, I think, his play overall has kind of put him in this position … to get this opportunity.’’
What will he say Thursday morning?