Igor Shesterkin

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Islanders, Hurricanes slide leaves playoff door open for Rangers

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Thanks to Mika Zibanejad‘s five-goal performance on Thursday night, the New York Rangers were able to pick up a huge win against the Washington Capitals to snap what had been a three-game losing streak.

Combined with regulation losses by the Carolina Hurricanes (against Philadelphia) and the New York Islanders (against Ottawa) on Thursday, the results helped the Rangers inch a little bit closer to a potential playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The odds are still stacked against them, but the fact they are even in the race at this point is a remarkable accomplishment and a minor hockey miracle.

As of Friday the Rangers are two points back of the Islanders for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Hurricanes, and two points ahead of the Florida Panthers.

Here is how the current Wild Card race shakes out, including every team’s current pace.

Given their current paces you can see the Rangers still have some work to do to catch either the Columbus Blue Jackets or Islanders and stay ahead of the Hurricanes, but this is still a dramatic change from what we saw as recently as one month ago.

Go back to the start of February and the Rangers were 10 points back of the Islanders and seven points back of both the Hurricanes and Panthers. Today, they have pretty much drawn even with the Hurricanes, moved ahead of the Panthers, and climbed to within striking distance of the Islanders. Those are significant gaps to close in that period of time. It is remarkably rare for teams to make up even a four-or five-point gap at the halfway point of the season, and the Rangers are currently in the process of closing 7-10 point gaps in just a little more than a month.

It’s been the perfect storm of the Rangers getting white hot and quite literally every team in direct competition with them starting to crumble for a variety of reasons.

Columbus, a team that has been completely devastated by injuries this season, has lost 11 out of its past 13 games (six of those losses have come in overtime or shootout, though).

The Islanders still have a decent hold on a Wild Card spot, but have been one of the league’s worst teams (no exaggeration) since that early-season point streak came to an end in late November. In 45 games since Nov. 25 the Islanders own only a .489 points percentage, 24th in the league during that stretch. Most recently, they have won just two of their past 11 games and take a five-game losing streak into Saturday’s game with the Hurricanes.

Speaking of the Hurricanes, their current injury situation is really starting to catch up with them.

They are still playing without both of their regular goalies (Petr Mrazek and James Reimer) and have lost four in a row since they exited the lineup. The most recent Hurricanes goalie to record a win was David Ayres. Even more concerning the goalie situation is the fact they are now without Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. That puts an absolutely massive dent in their blue line, and for as good as trade deadline acquisitions Brady Skjei and Sam Vatanen are, neither one is an upgrade over the two injured players and Vatanen has still yet to appear in a game due to his own injury. They are just 8-7-1 since Hamilton went out of the lineup, and remain winless since Pesce went out.

That’s not to say the Rangers don’t have their own concerns right now.

Igor Shesterkin, who had overtaken both Alexandar Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist as the team’s no No. 1 goalie, remains out of the lineup due to injuries sustained in a car accident just before the NHL trade deadline. Chris Kreider, meanwhile, is going to miss most — if not all — of the remaining games in the regular season due to an ankle injury. In the meantime, they are going to need to keep leaning on the duo of Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin to keep carrying the offense, and hope that the Islanders, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets continue the recent slides that have helped close the gap.

It’s asking a lot, and any extended slump by the Rangers or any winning streak by the Islanders, Blue Jackets or Hurricanes could render all of this meaningless. But the Rangers have at least given themselves a chance and a reason for their fans to pay close attention to the stretch run of the regular season.

Related: Western Conference Wild Card race is still not clear

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stunning Numbers: Rangers goalies, 100 point scorers, and more

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what has stood out to us over the past few weeks. 

100-point scorers

As of Saturday there are nine players in the NHL on pace for at least 100 points this season.

That list…

This stands out because as recently as two years ago the 100-point scorer seemed like it was an extinct species in the NHL.

A year ago six players ended up reaching the century mark. But in the years between 2010-11 and 2017-18 (a span of eight seasons) it was done just eight times by seven different players. In a couple of those years nobody did it.

The last time the NHL had at least nine 100 point scorers in a single season: The 1992-93 season, when 21 players reached it.

Another Golden Knights’ winning streak and another piece of history

The Rangers’ goaltending situation

The two biggest factors in the New York Rangers’ climb back into playoff contention have been the MVP caliber play of free agent acquisition Artemi Panarin, as well as the play of their two young goalies, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev.

The latter two have been so good that they have almost completely pushed a Rangers legend out of the picture.

As noted by NHL.com’s Pete Jensen on Friday, Henrik Lundqvist has not started a game for the Rangers since February 3 and has only made five starts in the new calendar year. During that time both Shesterkin and Georgiev have started both sets of back-to-back situations.

During that stretch the Rangers are 16-9-0 (the seventh best points percentage in the NHL), while their goaltenders have combined for an all situations .922, a mark that is tied for the second best in the NHL (with Tampa Bay and behind only Colorado).

Shesterkin and Georgiev alone have combined for a .930 mark in those games.

With Shesterkin sidelined for the time being due to injuries suffered in a car accident it seems likely that Lundqvist will at least get a couple of starts here in the coming weeks, but it is pretty clear which direction the Rangers’ net is headed in for the immediate (and long-term) future.

One more David Ayres stat

Carolina’s emergency backup goalie played a little more than 30 minutes and stopped 8 out of 10 shots to get the win exactly one week ago today.

Something to keep in mind: There are 21 goalies in NHL history that have played in at least four NHL games and have recorded zero wins.

Mike O’Neil, a former backup goalie with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1990s, is at the top of this list having appeared in 21 games without recording a single win. Bruce Racine, a backup with the Blues in 1995 and 1996, appeared in 11 games without a win.

Among active goalies Zane McIntyre has made eight appearances (with three starts) without a single win to his credit.

Chicago’s bright spot

It has been another tough year for the Chicago Blackhawks, but they have had one surprising development — the rapid emergence of rookie winger Dominik Kubalik.

With 29 goals in his first 62 games he is already one of the top rookie goal scorers in franchise history (sixth on the list) and is currently on a 38-goal pace.

The only Blackhawks rookies to ever top that mark were Steve Larmer (43 in 1982-83) and Darryl Sutter (40 in 1980-81). Considering the different eras and how different the goal-scoring climate is today, that is a pretty impressive season.

The only rookies with at least 38 goals since 1990 are Teemu Selanne, Alex Ovechkin, Eric Lindros, Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby, and Mikael Renberg.

Granted, Kubalik still has to reach that mark (I wouldn’t bet against him the way he is going right now) and he is a couple of years older than all of those players were in their rookie seasons, but it remans an impressive performance.

 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rangers’ Shesterkin, Buchnevich injured in car accident

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Along with announcing a new contract extension for Chris Kreider on Monday, New York Rangers team president John Davidson said teammates Igor Shesterkin and Pavel Buchnevich were involved in a car accident in Brooklyn on Sunday night.

According to Davidson, Shesterkin was driving when a vehicle did a U-turn in front of them resulting in the collision.

Fortunately both players were wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident.

Buchnevich was “quite shaken up” according to Davidson, but will only be out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis.

Shesterkin has a non-displaced rib fracture and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Shesterkin has emerged as the Rangers’ starting goalie in recent weeks and has a 9-1-0 record with a .940 save percentage since his re-call. His performance has been one of the biggest factors in the Rangers’ recent hot streak that has seen them climb back to within striking distance of a playoff spot this season.

The Rangers are currently carrying three goaltenders, while Alexander Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist will take over the goaltending duties in Shesterkin’s absence.

More: NHL Trade Deadline Live Blog

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

What is Henrik Lundqvist’s future with Rangers?

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There has been a changing of the guard for the New York Rangers.

After being the team’s starting goalie and the backbone of the entire franchise for 15 years, Henrik Lundqvist‘s time as their starting goalie appears to be over.

At least for now.

For the past month-and-a-half the Rangers have been using a three goalie rotation of Lundqvist, Alexander Georgiev, and rookie Igor Shesterkin that had mostly relegated the former to the bench. On Thursday, coach David Quinn announced Shesterkin as the team’s No. 1 goalie for the time being and that “keeping people sharp” was no longer a priority for the team.

“I think when you get three goalies and you were in the situation we were in, you’re a little bit sensitive to everybody,” Quinn said, via the New York Post. “You want to give everybody an opportunity and see how this thing unfolds. I thought everybody had an ample opportunity and everybody had a chance to state their case. I just felt that Igor made the most impact and was in a position to ride him for a little while.”

By making that announcement Quinn simply confirmed what had already been obvious: the Rangers are looking toward the future in goal.

Since Shesterkin’s recall from the AHL in early January, Lundqvist has started just three games for the Rangers (fewest among the three goalies on the team) with the prized rookie getting the bulk of the playing time.

Shesterkin has a .941 save percentage in his first seven appearances during that stretch.

There had been speculation in the first half of the season that the Rangers might trade Georgiev, but a rebuilding team out of playoff contention dealing away a 23-year-old goalie doesn’t make much sense unless you are getting a massive haul in return. Given what the trade market for young goalies usually looks like, that was always going to be unlikely.

With him and Shesterkin in the mix, a franchise legend is left sitting on the bench.

So what happens next for Lundqvist?

The most intriguing option is a potential trade, either before the Feb. 24 trade deadline or in the offseason.

Lundqvist holds all of the cards in such a discussion and can dictate where — and if — he gets traded. At 37 he is not the player he was in his prime when he was one of the league’s elite goalies, but he has still performed at a better than league-average level the past two seasons while playing behind what has been at times a porous defense. A contender in need of a goalie could find a use for him, while also giving Lundqvist an opportunity to complete his resume with the final remaining honor he needs — a Stanley Cup.

Lundqvist loves being a Ranger and has always had a desire to play his entire career with the team, but he did open the door for a possible move this past spring when he admitted to a Swedish publication that it’s possible he could end up playing for another team.

As harsh as it is to say, the Rangers aren’t in a position where they can put loyalty over the good of the team. While neither Shesterkin or Georgiev is a proven commodity at this point, it stands to reason that one of them — or perhaps both — will be the focal point of the next Rangers team that competes for a Stanley Cup.

While it’s certainly possible that Lundqvist could return next season and wrestle playing time away from the two young goalies and regain his starting job (maybe one or both falters? Maybe Lundqvist still has one more big year left?), that seems to be unlikely given the current direction.

It could also create a situation where instead of a trade, the Rangers and Lundqvist agree to a buyout of the final year of his contract (as suggested by the Post’s Larry Brooks about a week ago), making a clean break and allowing Lundqvist to become a free agent.

The other option: Lundqvist decides this is it, rides out the remainder of the season as a third-string goalie that gets an occasional start here and there and simply retires. But that is not exactly the way you want to see the best goalie of his era go out.

It’s going to be interesting to see what path this all takes, but either way it is pretty clear that barring injury to one of the young goalies we are probably not going to see many more appearances for Lundqvist in a Rangers sweater.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Shesterkin shining on Broadway; Athanasiou, Wings upset Bruins

Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers covers the puck against the Los Angeles Kings
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Three Stars

1) Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

The Blueshirts have been very fortunate to have Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes since 2005 and the goaltender of the future appears to be arriving on Broadway sooner than expected. Shesterkin made 42 saves to help lead the Rangers to a 4-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden Sunday. The young Russian netminder has improved to 5-1-0 in six starts this season and continues to push for more playing time. While Lundqvist is unlikely to be moved at the trade deadline, Shesterkin’s consistent play has allowed Jeff Gorton to consider moving Alexandar Georgiev in the next few weeks. A crowded crease creates playing time concerns for all parties involved, but for the rebuilding Rangers, it’s a good problem to have for the time being.

2) Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit Red Wings

Everyone knew wins would be tough to come by for the Red Wings this season, but the plan was to have a few pieces continue their development. Athanasiou was expected to be one of those players after scoring 30 goals last season. Sunday, he scored his seventh and eighth of the season in Detroit’s surprising 3-1 victory against the Boston Bruins. The 25-year-old broke a 1-1 tie with a short-side snipe midway through the third period. He later added an empty-net goal to seal the victory for the Red Wings.

3) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Blackhawks took an early two-goal lead, but the Jets stormed back in their third consecutive victory. Winnipeg scored five unanswered and moved into sole possession of the first wild card in the West with a 5-2 win against Chicago. Connor scored twice and added an assist, stretching his individual point streak to three games. The speedy winger benefitted from a terrific pass from Andrew Copp to cut Chicago’s two-goal advantage in half. Connor is two goals shy of reaching the 30-goal mark for the third consecutive season.

[NHL ON NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday]

Highlights of the Night

Copp put the right amount of sauce on this pass to set up Connor for a shorthanded goal.

Kaapo Kakko ended a 13-game goal drought after Filip Chytil delivered a beautiful backhanded pass from the corner.

Rickard Rakell slid a puck through the legs of Jack Eichel to set up Ryan Getzlaf midway through the first period.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Detroit Red Wings 3, Boston Bruins

Anaheim Ducks 3, Buffalo Sabres 2

New York Rangers 4, Los Angeles Kings 1

Winnipeg Jets 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Colorado Avalanche 3, Minnesota Wild 2

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.