Rangers Recall: Another bad start adds to Igor Shesterkin’s frustrations
Tuesday night at the Garden was brutal for the New York Rangers, especially for goaltender Igor Shesterkin. After a 7-3 trouncing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in which he allowed 6 goals on 29 shots, it marked his third straight loss and another bad start.
Afterwards, a dejected netminder addressed the media and minimally responded to questions regarding his play. “I don’t know what to say to you,” he concluded. “Sorry.”
The Rangers number 1 goalie has now allowed 15 goals in his last three games and is struggling to find his form since returning from a 16-day hiatus due to injury in November.
Let’s look at the biggest takeaways from the Rangers’ debacle against the Leafs.
Rangers Recall: Frustrated Shesterkin, Shoddy Defense, and more
Igor Shesterkin and defensive struggles continue
Shesterkin has been struggling ever since returning from his injury. A large part of that has to do with the Rangers play in front of him, but he’s definitely off. Whether the issue is physical or mental, he needs help from his goalie coach Benoit Allaire and everyone playing defense.
“We had a breakdown in the neutral on one of the goals and in front of the net on another,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought through the course of the game, he made some big saves. I believe everything is cyclical, and I think there’s things we can do better in front of him. We’ll continue to work on it.”
Before his injury on November 2, Igor was 6-2-0 with a 2.36 GAA and a solid .913 save percentage. Since coming back, he’s 4-5-0 with a bloated 3.59 GAA along and a subpar .894 save percentage.
Just looking at his last three starts, the Rangers as a team haven’t come out of the gate to compete in the first period. When a goalie is struggling, a solid opening 20 minutes would help build some confidence. Instead, the Rangers allowed a goal 3:52 in versus Toronto off a delayed penalty. Against the Washington Capitals, it took Sonny Milano just 43 seconds to put Igor in a hole.
This has to stop before he straps the pads on again.
Shesterkin is expected to start one of the next two games, either Friday versus the Anaheim Ducks or Saturday against the Boston Bruins. No matter which contest it is, the Rangers need to come out and play an inspired first period to give the backbone of their team a chance.
Blake Wheeler clicks?
There wasn’t much to be excited about on Tuesday, except for the play of Blake Wheeler.
The 37 year-old veteran doubled his goal totals with a vintage performance, scoring 2 goals on 5 shots. More importantly, he looked in sync for the first time this season, playing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, who assisted on his second tally.
“I think our line was really good,” Wheeler noted. “We had a number of opportunities. Too bad we could only get the two to go in.”
New York desperately needs Wheeler to step up in Kaapo Kakko’s absence. It’s not that the latter was lighting it up, but when it came to controlling play, he was doing an excellent job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone.
Wheeler has 4 goals and 4 assists on the season in 27 games.
Alexis Lafreniere slipping?
As the Ranges have gone 1-3-0 in their last four games, Alexis Lafreniere appears to have cooled off tremendously. During this stretch, he has just 1 assist and is sporting a -4 rating.
In watching him closely, Lafreniere seems to be taking more chances offensively looking to make a big play instead of keeping it simple. A lot of that is likely due to the Rangers putting themselves behind the proverbial 8-ball early in games. However, it is something to keep an eye on going forward. The Rangers can ill afford Lafreniere becoming a defensive liability on a line where his role is to play it smart and get to high-scoring areas so Artemi Panarin can find him.
This season, the 23 year-old has 8 goals and 8 assists through 27 matches.