New York Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin is having quite the season, he’s already faced 1,000 shots and is on a collision course with destiny. If the 26-year-old upholds his .938 save percentage (SV%), he’ll become the third Russian winner of the Vezina Trophy and bring the title back to the Big Apple for the first time since 2011-12.
Asked if he pays attention to commentary about his award-winning calibre season, he replied as he often does.
“No, I don’t speak English,” he said perfectly… in English.
But what about the response from people back home?
“They don’t talk about it,” he explained, cracking a wise smile.
And with the Rangers flying high in the Metropolitan Division, it’s easy to see why Shesterkin feels so at ease in New York. The heir to Henrik Lundqvist’s crease, the Moscow native has a 23-5-3 record on the season, including three shutouts.
— Mikey Cee (@MikeyCee24) February 16, 2022
He ranks first in the NHL for SV% among netminders who have played at least 20 games this year, with Freddie Andersen (.927, 35 GP), Jacob Markstrom (.927, 37 GP), and Jack Campbell (.924, 35 GP) trailing in his wake.
He’s also carrying a heavy load for the Maddison Square Garden franchise, playing 35 games to Alexander Georgiev’s 19.
“I’m not concerned about that, honestly,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said when asked how many games he expects Shesterkin to play. “Things change day-to-day in our business. I’m not worried about Igor playing 30 games or 35 games or 15 games, I’m worried about getting a good goalie in the net for the next 35.
“It’s not about Igor, it’s not about Georgie, it’s about winning hockey games and playing who’s ready to go.”
Preview: New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators, 20/02/2022
For viewers in the UK and Ireland, tune into Premier Sports at 22:00 on Sunday to watch the New York Rangers face off against the Ottawa Senators.
Braden Schneider Handed PK Role, Igor Shesterkin Likely to Start
With Gallant’s comments in mind, Shesterkin is likely to start between the pipes in the Rangers’ road game against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday [20 February]. The Russian has played excellently over his last five starts and is winning Gallant plenty of matches by saving a league-leading 28.81 goals above average.
For the record, Markstrom, his closest rival, has stopped 18.44 goals above average. Shesterkin is playing at a truly elite level and could tip the balance in his team’s favour against the Sens.
In front of him, there are conversations about the future to be had.
If the Rangers want to make an impact before the trade deadline, they might be forced to part with 20-year-old blueliner Braden Schneider. Per The Athletic, he’s one of the players the Vancouver Canucks would like to acquire in a potential trade for T.J. Miller.
Braden Schneider scores in his NHL debut to give the #NYR a 2-0 lead. Artemiy Panarin's not going to get a point here (assists to Chytil + Strome), but his keep in sparks the play. pic.twitter.com/ovIBNzLpxt
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) January 14, 2022
Earlier this week, Gallant paired Schneider with fellow rookie Zac Jones against the Boston Bruins. It was their 11th and seventh appearances of the season, respectively, and they were impressive.
Schneider played the outlet pass that set up Filip Chytil’s goal and soaked up important minutes on the penalty kill. He was smooth on the puck, calm in defence, and seems to have gained the trust of his head coach. Evidently, the Rangers would prefer to retain the 6-foot-2 Canadian’s services.
Up front, Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad are the duo to watch. Panarin has 53 points (13 goals, 40 assists) in 44 games this year, with Zibanejad potting 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) of his own.
Fox will also provide a spark from the blueline, his 48 points (seven goals, 41 assists) in 46 games place him in contention to retain the Norris Trophy.
Ottawa Senators Aim to Fix Patchy Form
The Senators are 3-3-0 since 9 Feb. and find themselves way out of the playoff picture as a result. In the off-season, GM Pierre Dorion famously suggested that his team’s rebuild was complete. He has since changed his view.
“We’re definitely hoping this is our last deadline as a seller,’’ Dorion told Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. “I think the need to sell is definitely diminishing. We did want to get a few players in this year, and we knew some of them would only be around for a year and some we’ll try to sign.
“But there’s no real need to be selling at a premium compared to previous years.’’
Dorion is right, the Sens have a promising core of young players who should take the club to the next level. Captain Brady Tkachuk, defenceman Thomas Chabot, and forward Drake Batherson each have bright futures ahead of them – the question is whether they will bring success to Ottawa.
Most goals scored within a player's first 4 career NHL seasons in @Senators franchise history (1992-93 to present):
101- Alexei Yashin
96- Martin Havlat
82- Jason Spezza
78- Daniel Alfredsson
76- Brady Tkachuk (Via his empty netter in a 3-1 win over BUF tonight)
76- Marian Hossa pic.twitter.com/rEY7OS81jH
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) February 18, 2022
Unfortunately for the Sens, Batherson is unavailable for the visit of the Rangers (ankle) – leaving Tim Stutzle and Josh Norris with heavier loads to carry. However, they’ve registered only three points between them over their last five games – with pressure starting to ramp up on the duo.
According to Money Puck, the Senators have a 49.2% chance of beating the Rangers. Time will tell.
Advanced stats via Hockey Reference.
NHL Schedule, 19-20/02/2022 (GMT):
Saturday 19 February:
Colorado Avalanche @ Buffalo Sabres, 18:00
Edmonton Oilers @ Winnipeg Jets, 21:00
Sunday 20 February:
Boston Bruins @ Ottawa Senators, 00:00
St. Louis Blues @ Toronto Maple Leafs, 00:00
LA Kings @ Arizona Coyotes, 02:00
Seattle Kraken @ Calgary Flames, 03:00
Anaheim Ducks @ Vancouver Canucks, 03:00
Carolina Hurricanes @ Pittsburgh Penguins, 18:00
Montreal Canadiens @ New York Islanders, 19:00
Florida Panthers @ Chicago Blackhawks, 20:00
New York Rangers @ Ottawa Senators, 22:00
Buffalo Sabres @ Columbus Blue Jackets, 23:00
Will Igor Shesterkin keep a shutout versus the Ottawa Senators? Join the conversation by tweeting @BritIceHockey.