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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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

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    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

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    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

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    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

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    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

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    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.