Rangers’ Shesterkin surges back into Hart Trophy race

Rangers' Shesterkin surges back into Hart Trophy race
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

In a time when scorers are turning heads with historic seasons, don’t count out an incredible goalie. After the smallest of lulls, Igor Shesterkin is surging back into the Hart Trophy conversation, while the Rangers battle the Hurricanes for a possible Metropolitan Division title.

Igor Shesterkin currently boasts a 36-11-4 record, .936 save percentage, and six shutouts. This post touches on those numbers, but also goes much deeper.

Looking at Igor Shesterkin’s latest hot streak

At the moment, the Rangers are on a remarkable three-game shutout streak. After Alexandar Georgiev pitched a shutout against the Flyers last week, Shesterkin posted consecutive shutouts for the Rangers on Saturday (vs. Red Wings) and Tuesday (vs. Jets).

During his past five starts, Igor Shesterkin’s posted three shutouts and collected four wins. While Jacob Markstrom (nine shutouts) and Ilya Sorokin (seven) lead the pack shutouts-wise, Shesterkin’s now third with six on the season.

Back in February, Ryan Strome even speculated that Shesterkin may one day score a goal on an empty net.

” … The plays he makes and the breakout passes are just spectacular,” Strome said in late February, via the Canadian Press. “He’s probably a better passer than 75-80 per cent of our team. I think guys would openly admit that, too.”

Hey, the Rangers still have five games left on their schedule, so who knows?

A crowded Hart Trophy field

Not every NHL regular season features the same level of elite performances. In 2014-15, Jamie Benn won the Art Ross Trophy with a mere 87 points.

This season, voters are positively overloaded with credible Hart Trophy candidates.

Matthews is a unicorn, an incredibly multi-faceted player with a unique skill-set that has rarely if ever been seen in this sport — an extraordinary mix of offence and defence. It’s extremely difficult to be truly among the league’s best on both sides of the puck, but Matthews is that exact unlikely combination.

More on a special (possibly Hart Trophy-worthy) season by Igor Shesterkin

For all that Matthews has accomplished, the Hart Trophy debate may boil down to how you difficult it is to weigh skater vs. goalie contributions.

  • At Evolving Hockey, Johnny Gaudreau (30.6) and Auston Matthews (30.5) battle for the highest GAR (Goals Above Replacement) among skaters. They’re both in a photo finish for WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 5.3, and SPAR (Standings Points Above Replacement) at 10.1.
  • Meanwhile, Igor Shesterkin shatters those marks. His GAR is a gargantuan 50.9, he sports an 8.9 WAR, and 16.8 SPAR.
  • Again, the discussion shifts to a goalie’s place in the Hart Trophy conversation, then. Frederik Andersen‘s 38.8 GAR puts him comfortably ahead of the likes of Gaudreau and Matthews … but the gap between Shesterkin and Andersen is much larger.

Truly, it’s astounding what Shesterkin’s accomplished.

[Breaking down how the Rangers improved around Shesterkin lately]

As of this writing, Shesterkin also easily leads the NHL with a whopping 44.55 Goals Saved Against Average, with Ilya Sorokin the only other goalie above 30 (a distant second at 30.72).

To give you another idea how special Igor Shesterkin’s season has been, consider this. If you combined last season’s GSAA leader (Semyon Varlamov at 21.97) with the top mark in 2019-20 leader (Tuukka Rask at 22.51, combined for 44.48), you’d still fall a bit short of Shesterkin’s 44.55 GSAA.

We’ve seen signs of Shesterkin being a great goalie, but there truly are areas where even he might fail to replicate this season. On the penalty kill alone, Shesterkin posted a 14.33 GSAA. That leads all goalies in that area, with only two other goalies in double digits (James Reimer – 12.23; Anton Forsberg – 11.58).

For all of the Rangers’ improvements since the trade deadline, it remains telling that by expected goals, they’d still be slated for a -5 goal differential. Strong finishing, including on the power play, absolutely helped the Rangers overachieve to the point of a +47 goal differential.

But Igor Shesterkin remains the biggest difference-maker, and a historic one at that:

Shesterkin Hockey Viz
(via Hockey Viz)

Goalies don’t win the Hart Trophy often, but it does happen

Carey Price Hart Trophy other awards
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Carey Price was the last goalie to win a Hart Trophy, doing so in the same 2014-15 season when Jamie Benn topped all scorers with a mere 87 points. Before that, you’d need to reach back to 2000-01 (Jose Theodore) and then Dominik Hasek’s 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons to find goalies who won Hart Trophies somewhat recently.

Clearly, it’s rare, but far from unprecedented. For those hoping that Igor Shesterkin might make Hart Trophy debates easier by fading away, this latest hot streak instead boosts him back into the conversation.

Maybe all the way up to the top of it.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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