The Rangers have cleared every obstacle they’ve faced so far this season, but a quarter of the way through, their most daunting challenge has just come knocking.
Goaltender Igor Shesterkin, whom the Rangers have given most of the credit for their third-best start in franchise history, was placed on injured reserve Saturday ahead of the team’s matchup with the Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers have eight games in the next 13 days, and Shesterkin will miss, at a minimum, three of them.
The 25-year-old Shesterkin could barely bring himself to his skates and had to be assisted to the locker room in the third period of the Rangers’ 1-0 win over the Sharks on Friday night. And though head coach Gerard Gallant said trainers told him Shesterkin’s injury wasn’t as bad as it looked, the goalie’s history says otherwise.
The last time the Rangers said Shesterkin was “day-to-day,” in March of last season, he was out for three weeks and missed 10 games.
“We’ve grown a lot in last year or two,” Ryan Strome said after the win Friday. “We’re able to handle these things, no matter who goes down. We’ve had a ton of games where we’ve played with 11 forwards, either guys getting hurt or whatever. I think guys responded well on the bench, just turned it up, make sure we helped [backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev] out. He came in and did his job, he’s a good goaltender. He’s been waiting for an opportunity and he went in there and finished [it] off.”
“That’s what good teams do. Next man up.”
The Rangers have had to exercise that “next man up” mantra several times already through their first 22 games.
Just three games into the season, the Rangers lost two of their top six players when Strome missed four contests while in COVID-19 protocol and Kaapo Kakko landed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Then the Rangers’ fourth line was without one of its staples, Ryan Reaves, who went on IR and missed four games from Oct. 29-Nov. 5.
The Rangers were down a center after Filip Chytil was sidelined for three contests with an upper-body injury on injured reserve in mid-November. Most recently, the Rangers lost Sammy Blais for the season to an ACL tear after the grinding winger had one of the most promising starts to the season.
So the team’s skater depth has been tested, but now it could be all about who plays between the pipes. This time, it’ll be up to Georgiev and Adam Huska, whom the organization recalled from AHL Hartford on Saturday.
Georgiev was already going to start Saturday night against the Blackhawks, but he may now see more playing time in a shorter period than he has seen all season so far.
The Rangers will have to compete that they did in the second half of their win Friday. Limiting the Sharks to just six high-danger scoring chances in the last two periods, the Rangers locked them down, while Georgiev came up with nine saves in 14:52 of relief.
“We’re 22 games in and I think it took us the first 10 games or 12 games, we weren’t too happy with the way we played even though we were winning hockey games,” Gallant said. “But I think it’s changed since then. The last 10 games have been very good for me.”