Rangers are putting it all on Igor Shesterkin

New York Rangers Igor Shesterkin
Jared Silber, Getty Images

Igor Shesterkin has been the biggest driving force behind the New York Rangers’ success.

He was the best goalie in the league during the regular season, is a finalist for both the Hart Trophy (league MVP) and Vezina Trophy (top goalie), and has accelerated the Rangers’ rebuild to the point where they are now just two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final after missing the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons.

In any context it has been a sensational performance from the Rangers’ franchise player. It is especially impressive given the flaws the Rangers still have in front of him defensively. Their success this postseason has been almost entirely about their lethal power play and the goaltending of Shesterkin, with a heavy emphasis on the latter.

[Related: Kucherov-Stamkos-Palat line has been series-changer for Lightning]

The biggest issue the Rangers had this year was the number of shots and chances they give up in their own end of the rink, a trend that has unsurprisingly carried over to the playoffs. It has reached the point where they are asking Shesterkin to face a workload that is almost unmatched for any goalie in recent playoff history.

Let’s take a look at some numbers here just to get some perspective on what it is they are asking from Shesterkin.

Since the start of the 2009-10 playoffs, there have been 104 instances of a goalie playing at least 500 minutes (all situations) in a single playoff run. Out of those goalies Shesterkin has faced more expected goals, high-danger shots, and had to make more high-danger saves than any of those goalies. In each category there is a pretty significant gap between him and the rest of the goalies on the list.

First, the top-10 goalies that have faced the most expected goals against per 60 minutes in a single postseason (minimum 500 minutes played):

Shesterkin is facing nearly four expected goals per game over his first 18 games this postseason. Only two other goalies since 2010 have been asked to see more than 3.23 per game: Mike Smith with this year’s Oilers and Corey Crawford with the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks, who were the 23rd ranked team in the league and only in the playoffs because of the expanded playoffs and the bubble.

Now, high-danger shots against.

Again, more than any other goalie over that stretch by a pretty high margin. Given the team Corey Crawford was playing behind in 2019-20, this is not the company you want to be keeping as a goalie.

And in terms of actual high-danger saves per 60 minutes.

Even though he has had to face more high-danger shots and expected goals than any other goalie over the past decade, he still has a .929 save percentage for the playoffs. He has been at .912 or better in 14 of his 18 starts, and above .923 in 12 of them. It is a staggering performance, and just further strengthening what should have been a slam dunk MVP argument during the regular season.

As he goes, the Rangers go.

[The Wraparound: Will Rangers regret missed opportunity in Game 3?]

Even when you take into account the fact the league is becoming more offensive driven with increased scoring chances in recent postseasons, Shesterkin is still facing a stunning number of chances behind this Rangers’ defense. Not even the current goalies are really all that close to what he has been asked to do. Especially over this many games and this large of a sampling.

The Rangers have only had three games this postseason where they had a 50 percent (or better) share of the expected goals (all situations) in a game. They are 2-1 in those games. In every other game they have been losing the territorial battle and chasing the play, relying on goaltending to carry them.

They have had nine games where their expected goal share has been under 42 percent, including eight under 40 percent. Teams that play like that do not typically reach this point in the playoffs and still have a realistic chance to reach the Stanley Cup Final. If you are going to play that way you better have a darn good goalie. Fortunately for the Rangers, they do.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

This is not meant to discredit the Rangers being here. You can not take away the wins that have happened and even with their flaws they do have talent in a lot of key areas. A great power play can make a difference, and it has for the Rangers.

Goaltending is arguably the most important aspect of any team and can make-or-break their chances. And nobody is getting better play there this season than the Rangers. Those things can take you a long way.

At this point it seems unlikely that much is going to change for the Rangers in the way they play and the way their games unfold. The only question now is whether or not the power play and Shesterkin have enough to get them two more wins in this series, and if they have another round after this in them.

[Data via Natural Stat Trick]

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    Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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    San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

    Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

    “In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

    Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

    Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

    “As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

    The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

    “Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

    Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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    NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

    Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

    Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

    “When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

    The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

    “Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

    Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

    “This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

    Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

    As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

    Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

    Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

    Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

    New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

    After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

    Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

    “We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

    Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

    “It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

    Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

    “It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

    NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


    Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

    Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

    Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

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    TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

    The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

    Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

    The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

    Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

    The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

    Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman has shoulder surgery

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    CHICAGO — Chicago Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman had surgery on his right shoulder.

    The team said the operation was performed in Los Angeles. Team physician Michael Terry said the 23-year-old Guttman is expected “to be out of hockey activities for approximately four months.”

    Guttman had been a pleasant surprise for rebuilding Chicago. He made his NHL debut last month and finished the season with four goals and two assists in 14 games.

    Guttman was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2017 draft. He agreed to a two-year contract with Chicago in August 2022 that had a $950,000 salary cap hit.