WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The No. 1 goalie sat in a room adjacent to the visitors’ locker room, ice wrapped around his left ankle, slouched down, staring into the distance — like this could have been any other day in his 24 years on earth.
But the story of Igor Shesterkin is building in scope with each performance like this, the young Russian tackling his first NHL road game by backstopping his Rangers to a 4-1 win over the Jets on Tuesday night.
Despite missing just over six minutes in the first period after being ludicrously pulled from the game by a league concussion spotter, Shesterkin ended up making 42 saves, collecting his sixth win in his first seven career starts, and further cementing himself atop the pecking order in the Rangers’ three-goalie situation.
“Six and one,” is what coach David Quinn said when asked if he had anything to add at this point about Shesterkin, with this his first year playing on the smaller North American rink and just over a month since his call-up from AHL Hartford.
“From where I sit, it doesn’t matter what league he’s in, it doesn’t matter what building he’s in. It doesn’t matter about anything,” Quinn said. “All he knows is there is a net behind him and he’s going to keep the puck out of it, which is a very simple approach, and it works.”
If Quinn wants to keep alive this tethered idea of making a playoff push for his Rangers (28-23-5), then he will stick to his declaration of playing the goalie who gives them the best chance to win. With all due respect to the Hall of Fame career of Henrik Lundqvist — who made one save in his 6:04 of playing time and was actually in line for the win — along with the potential of Alex Georgiev (scratched for this one), Shesterkin is living up to all the hype.
“I’ve been very lucky my whole time in New York,” said Chris Kreider, whose trade (or contract) value raises almost nightly.
His first goal of the night was a right-wing burst that he tucked around goalie Connor Hellebuyck late in the first, which would have given Lundqvist the win if the shutout held up. His second was a power-play put-back at 7:30 of the second giving his team a 2-0 lead and him 22 tallies on the season.
“When you have that kind of poise between the pipes,” Kreider said, “it makes your job that much easier.”
The slight moment of panic came at 8:12 of the first period, when Tony DeAngelo was called for interference, shoving Andrew Copp into Shesterkin. The goalie went down in a heap, grabbed at his left leg, and was slow to get up. But he stayed in the game, and not until more than six minutes of game time had gone by did trainer Jim Ramsay come out to tell Shesterkin he was being pulled by the concussion spotter — much to the goalie’s chagrin.
“The league needs to take a look at that procedure,” Quinn said. “If the trainer tells you it’s an ankle issue, I don’t understand why you have to go through concussion protocol.”
But Shesterkin came out to start the second, and the message from Quinn was not to let up. His team responded by Ryan Strome scoring 53 seconds into the third, followed 25 seconds later by Mika Zibanejad making it 4-0. Nikolaj Elhers then had a shot bounce off a few legs for a power-play goal at 4:35 of the third, the only puck Shesterkin allowed — his first shutout proving far more elusive than the stockpiling of victories.
The Rangers’ trip now moves on to Minnesota and Columbus, and this began a stretch of eight of 10 games on the road. Turns out, that doesn’t bother Shesterkin just one bit.
“He gets to the right places, he fights through traffic,” said Jacob Trouba, happy his new goalie made his return trip to Winnipeg so much easier. “He’s just got all the attributes of a good goalie.”