SAINT PAUL, Minn. — At this point of the season, if you ask any member of the New York Rangers about Igor Shesterkin, all he can do is laugh.
The amount of times each player, forwards and defensemen alike, and head coach Gerard Gallant have fielded questions regarding the otherworldly play of their star goaltender is endless. Practice after practice, game after game, Shesterkin is almost always at the center of the conversation.
But when Shesterkin’s .942 save percentage and 1.93 goals-against average is the common denominator for the Rangers’ unforeseen 36-15-5 record, it is more than warranted. It is also understandable to wonder how long the Rangers can actually ride Shesterkin.
Shesterkin has started 11 of the Rangers’ past 12 games, backstopping the team to eight wins, three losses and one overtime defeat over that stretch. Over the Rangers’ 56 games this season, the 26-year-old has started 36 of them. Shesterkin has obviously shouldered a bulk of the workload, but he missed some time with a suspected groin injury in December and landed in COVID-19 protocol in January.
With 26 games left in the regular season and three more cities left on their current trip, which continues Tuesday night against the Wild, the Rangers will have to be strategic with Shesterkin’s playing schedule.
Shesterkin admitted he was tired after stopping 45 shots to lift the Rangers to a 4-1 win over t he Jets on Sunday in Winnipeg, but the Russian goalie said he would play every game if he had to. Now, as much as the Rangers probably wish that could be the case, it obviously can’t be.
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So it’ll be up to head coach Gerard Gallant and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire to decide how to manage their Hart Trophy candidate.
“What does he need a day off for?” Gallant said half-jokingly after the Rangers practiced at Xcel Energy Center on Monday. “He can take Fridays off any time he wants, just like any of my players. They’re tired, they come in, they say, ‘Coach, I’m not going to go on.’
“We manage our goalies. He hasn’t played a whole lot of games. As good as he’s played, how many games has he played right now? It’s not like he’s been busy. He had a couple weeks off when he got hurt, we had a nice break — our whole team — for 14 days. He’s not going to play every game, trust me. He’ll be fine.”
Having coached Carey Price while an assistant in Montreal from 2012 to 2014, Gallant had a front-row seat for the development of the legendary Canadiens goalie who captured the Hart Trophy in 2015. Asked if he has the same unwavering confidence when he has Shesterkin in net as he did with Price, Gallant said it definitely felt like the same.
Price was the last goalie to win the NHL’s MVP award, but Gallant — and the rest of the Rangers — know there’s a good chance there could be another netminder’s name on the list soon enough.
“I don’t know Igor that well, it’s my first year with him,” Gallant said. “But he goes in there, he’s focused, he plays his game and he’s just confident in his hockey game. Every night he’s just been outstanding.”