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NHL

Shesterkin Shutout Stifles Squabble

11:13 AM EST on February 13, 2024

Igor Shesterkin is named first star of the game
Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

A shutout doesn't necessarily deserve a wild celebration—47 different goalies have produced at least one so far this year. But when it comes for the first time in the middle of a standout goaltender's subpar season, it can be a big lift, and it felt like one for Rangers crease custodian Igor Shesterkin on Monday night.

Shesterkin was, very recently, one of the absolute best stoppers in the NHL, but this year, his fourth as a No. 1, has been by a clear margin his weakest. The pucks are getting through him often enough that 38-year-old Jonathan Quick, whose career could easily have ended last summer, has spent the last couple weeks building a case for himself as starter, allowing two goals or fewer in each of his last four games. Shesterkin, meanwhile, let in seven on 41 attempts across his last two appearances before the all-star break, then turned in a C-plus performance in a 4-3 win over Chicago on Friday when he returned to the ice.

Monday's matchup versus the Flames, at the start of a big New York New Jersey hockey week that culminates with outdoor games at Giants Stadium, would have been a time to put your best goalie between the pipes. The Rangers believe (and maybe need to believe) that's still Shesterkin, even if contemporary history says otherwise. On this night they were rewarded for their faith. In a tense game that saw the Rangers control possession early but fail to convert it into goals, New York scored a late empty-netter to go with this unpretty mid-game strike and squeaked by Calgary 2-0.

Jacob Markström used his athleticism to snuff out the home offense for almost the entire game, but Igor was perfect. Unlike in Chicago, where he looked maybe one-eighth of a step too slow on the goals, he saw the puck clearly all night and knew his angles like he was teaching math at Columbia. When the action got dicier as the Rangers hung back to protect their lead, he was even sharper. This stop early in the third was a clear statement of mental and physical preparedness. From way up high on the opposite side of the arena (I was there!), it looked as though the puck had maybe zoomed into the top part of the net and ricocheted back out. But on slo-mo from a better angle, you can see Igor's reflexes working to protect what's been a soft corner for him this year.

Does this game solve a goalie controversy? Nah, there's still a lot of season to play. But the ovation Shesterkin got for the first-star announcement, plus the highly complimentary quotes in the locker room afterward, indicate that everyone around the Rangers is invested in getting their guy as right as possible before this first-place squad enters the playoffs.

"I think every player goes through slumps, it's just more noticeable when it's the goalie and everybody's eyes see it more," said captain Jacob Trouba. "[He] took that time to reset and he was great tonight."

“I hope everything is working for me right now,” Shesterkin said. “Have fun, stop the puck.”

I mentioned last week how the singular nature of the goalie position prevents two players from sharing the role in the games that matter most, and so every controversy needs a definitive conclusion. That remains true, but the Rangers are riding a five-game win streak with one goalie coming off a shutout and another who just posted back-to-back one-goal games. They can save the worrying for when their fortunes turn.

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