Examining the Rangers goalie duo of Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick
Since taking over for Henrik Lundqvist in 2019-20, Igor Shesterkin has played in 158 games, good enough for 14th amongst his peers, which calculates to 54.48% of New York’s games. Considering a bulk of teams across the league are employing a goalie tandem that splits the duties, one of the questions heading into the 2023-24 season will be, how many games should Shesterkin play?
During his memorable 15-year career with the New York Rangers, Lundqvist played in 887 games, the most of any netminder from 2005-06 to 2019-20. Furthermore, he skated in 74.92% out of a possible 1,184 games the Rangers played during that stretch. Ultimately, as his generation’s workhorse netminder, Lundqvist played many regular season games and a bunch more in the playoffs (130) but never won a Stanley Cup.
Interestingly, a similar story is playing out with Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who has played in a league-leading 445 games since debuting in 2015-16. Statistically, the only netminders in the top ten regarding games played to win the Stanley Cup since Hellebuyck’s rookie season are Andrei Vasilevskiy (409) and Marc-Andre Fleury (390).
Shesterkin has proven he can do more when playing less
Outside of his debut season (2019-20), where he played only 12 games, Shesterkin has seen his game-played numbers increase each season. As the winner of the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best netminder in 2021-22, his achievements that year are the only thing the young Russian netminder has to brag about thus far.
In his first entire season between the pipes (2020-21), he split the duties with Alexander Georgiev, playing in 55.35% of the games that year. Unfortunately, the Rangers didn’t qualify for the playoffs that year, missing the postseason by 11 points.
Naturally, when the league returned to a regular 82-game schedule in 2021-22, the team sent Shesterkin out for more games (52), resulting in him playing in 63.41% of New York’s contests. Of course, he was brilliant that season, winning the Vezina Trophy and leading the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2015. However, they would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
Considering they employed the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, New York sent Shesterkin out for a career-high 58 games in 2022-23, letting him dress in 70.7% of the team’s schedule. Sadly, his numbers took a hit with more playing time, resulting in an increase in his goals-against average and a decrease in his save percentage numbers.
Despite a talented team in front of him, Shesterkin was hit and missed in the opening-round series against the New Jersey Devils, which the Rangers lost in seven games. Realistically, he got his team to the playoffs, but after a heavier workload, he could not repeat his heroics from the previous campaign.
Jonathan Quick may be the solution, but he could also be a concern
In the summer of 2023, the Rangers allowed former backup Jaroslav Halák to walk away in free agency. Statistically, the veteran netminder played in 25 games, producing a 10-9-5 record with a shutout. Ultimately, he replaced Georgiev, who left the previous summer in a trade.
Now, for the third straight season, Shesterkin will have a new battery mate, future Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick. At 37 years old, his acquisition is a head-scratcher since his best days are behind him, despite hoisting the Stanley Cup as a backup in June with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Unfortunately, his former team, the Los Angeles Kings, opted to move on from Quick at last year’s trade deadline after a subpar 11-13-4 record in 37 games. Surprisingly, he rebounded after a move to Vegas, going 5-2-2 in ten starts. However, he didn’t skate a minute in the postseason and should not be relied upon to dress in 41 games with the Rangers this year.
But the question surrounding Quick with the Rangers is whether he can be consistent enough to warrant 25 to 30 starts, allowing Shesterkin to stay fresh for the playoffs.
One thing Quick hasn’t had during his recent struggles is goalie guru Benoit Allaire, which should factor into a rebound for the veteran.
More NHL teams are employing goalie platoons these days
As mentioned, Hellebuyck has routinely played over 70% of games in a season and has no playoff successes for his efforts. Meanwhile, Shesterkin played that much last year and found himself out of the playoffs roughly a week after it started.
Realistically, the Boston Bruins had the best statistical regular season of all time, and the current Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark only played in 58% of their games. Sure, the Bruins also lost in seven games, but Ullmark played hurt, and the entire team suffered for his courageous effort to play through the injury.
However, the Bruins showed the whole league what you can accomplish with two healthy goalies who share duties instead of one being a true workhorse. Considering the numbers showcase that except for Vasilevskiy, any netminder who plays over 70% of his team’s games only lowers their chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
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Unfortunately, the Rangers won’t be able to employ this strategy unless Quick can capture lightning in a bottle, which should be a concern for the fanbase. Moreover, with a healthy and fresh Shesterkin tending the season’s biggest games, the chances of New York securing a big win are that much higher. But, with an unreliable backup option to share the pressure, the Rangers could end up with a tired Shesterkin when it matters most.
Of course, we are talking about professional athletes who get paid millions of dollars to stay in shape. Despite putting their bodies through the grind of the regular season, Shesterkin has shown he’s not immune to injuries. Although he gives the team the best chance to win every night and has earned the right to start all those games, sometimes you can achieve more with less. Ultimately, keeping Shesterkin out of 70% of this season’s contests is the approach new head coach Peter Laviolette should take in 2023-24.