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During training camp this month, Igor Shesterkin said he wouldn’t consider himself the No. 1 goalie on the Rangers. But the rookie netminder expressed his insatiable desire to earn that title.
Fast-forward to the morning after his third start of the season, a 3-2 loss to the Penguins that dropped his record to 0-2-1, and, according to his coach, the 25-year-old seems discouraged.
“I talked to him today, he was frustrated,” head coach David Quinn said Monday. “You can see he was a little bit dejected after the last two games. It’s a long season. The circumstances are a little different than they were last year.”
Since the Rangers drafted him in the fourth round in 2014, Shesterkin was primed to sit on the throne everyone knew Henrik Lundqvist would eventually vacate. But it was much easier to distance himself from the responsibilities that came with that last season when Lundqvist was still around.
Now, with the Rangers all but handing him an actual crown, Shesterkin has yet to reach out and take it.
Shesterkin started last season with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford and posted a 17-4-3 record with a .934 save percentage, earning an invitation to the AHL All-Star Game. When he was called up on Jan. 6, Shesterkin seamlessly carried over his elite play into the NHL.
He won 10 of his 12 regular-season starts, while owning a 2.52 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage, before the coronavirus pandemic suspended the season in March. After suffering a groin injury during an exhibition match against the Islanders at the start of the summer playoff bubble, Shesterkin got only one start against the Hurricanes, but the Rangers’ heads were already out of the series and there wasn’t much he could do to fend off the sweep by Carolina.
Still, the regular-season sample was enough to solidify the organization’s faith in Shesterkin, which ultimately led to the buyout of the final season on Lundqvist’ contract.
“Obviously, it would be quite an experience to be the face of the franchise,’’ Shesterkin said through a translator during training camp. “I take it very seriously. But much work has to be done in order to get there.’’
Through four appearances (three starts) this season, Shesterkin has allowed 10 goals on 88 shots for an .886 save percentage. For context, he has never finished a season in his entire hockey career with a save percentage lower than .903.
It may be early, but losing is not something Shesterkin is accustomed to. Over 158 career games in the Kontinental Hockey League, the AHL and the NHL, he has just 27 losses to his name. Shesterkin has simply never experienced a stretch of losses and it could be a difficult adjustment mentally.
Before the season started, Shesterkin was still riding high off his strong performance in his 12-game cameo last season.
“Catch the puck, and you will stay on the team,’’ he joked with a smile.
That was a lot easier said than done before the start of his first full season with the starting job staring him in the face.
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