NEW YORK — Two of the league’s most talented goaltenders battled over the course of Monday’s game, and Igor Shesterkin won the duel, outshining Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom in a 2-0 Rangers victory. After Shesterkin’s struggles in January and two-game breather after the All-Star break, that was a welcome sight to the Rangers.
“Everybody knew he was going to get back to how he plays,” captain Jacob Trouba said after his team’s fifth-consecutive win. “Every player goes through slumps. I think it’s just more noticeable when it’s the goalie and everybody’s eyes see it more. … He took that time to reset, and he was great tonight.”
Shesterkin made 30 saves in his first shutout of the season. With the Rangers clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third, he made two point-blank saves on Flames forward Blake Coleman, and the Madison Square Garden crowd erupted into, “I-gor! I-gor! I-gor!” chants.
“I hope everything is working for me right now,” he said postgame. “Have fun, stop the puck.”
🗣️ IGOR! IGOR! IGOR!
— NHL (@NHL) February 13, 2024
When that happens, New York is in a good position.
The Rangers controlled play through the first period, so Shesterkin needed to stop only six Calgary shots in the frame. His most impressive came on Nazem Kadri, whom he robbed with a glove save. He also made a smart play against Jonathan Huberdeau, poke-checking a puck away after the Flames forward got around Braden Schneider and found himself alone in front of the net.
The second was when his work ramped up. He used his right arm to block Kadri once again during a power play midway through the period, then made a save with his chest on Connor Zary. The Rangers allowed 13 shots in the period, and Shesterkin stopped them all. Coach Peter Laviolette found it impressive how he stayed sharp after not seeing much action in the first period.
“You could see he was on point tonight,” he said. “Even when there was a breakdown or something was happening in a different part of the ice, he arrived on time, in position and was there.”
Added Shesterkin: “I felt great, starting faceoff until the end.”
Shesterkin’s strong play continued into the third, and — much to the crowd’s delight — he tried to shoot a puck at the Flames’ net when Markstrom darted to the bench for an extra attacker. He missed the empty net, resulting in an icing call, but teammate Jimmy Vesey clinched the game with an insurance tally shortly after.
The Rangers goalie, whose season save percentage is back over .900, was named first star of the game. Asked about his confidence in the netminder, Kaapo Kakko replied simply: “As high as it can be.”
Power-play struggles continue
Laviolette shuffled his power-play units ahead of Monday’s game with hopes of having a more balanced attack. Blake Wheeler and Jonny Brodzinski joined Adam Fox, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad in the top grouping, which put Vincent Trocheck and Artemi Panarin with Erik Gustafsson, Alexis Lafrenière and Kakko on the second.
Laviolette needed to watch only one power play attempt to switch back to his team’s old units. The Flames quickly cleared two pucks on the Rangers’ first power play. And though Panarin set up Lafreniere with a quality look, that quintet didn’t create much, either.
When the Rangers had their second full power play in the third period, Laviolette returned to his standard top unit of Fox, Trocheck, Zibanejad, Panarin and Kreider. Short-handed Calgary ended up getting the most dangerous looks of the power play, though. Deep in the defensive zone after a clear, Fox heard Trocheck calling for a puck in the neutral zone. Calgary intercepted the puck, leading to a two-on-one and a flurry of dangerous chances. Shesterkin made sure it wasn’t too costly, making a shorthanded save, but it was the opposite of what a struggling Rangers power play wanted. They have now failed to convert on 17 consecutive power plays.
Third line buzzes
Peter Laviolette’s third line of Will Cuylle, Brodzinski and Kakko continued its strong play together. On a two-on-one midway through the first, Kakko drove to the net and put a shot on the previously impenetrable Markstrom. The goalie made the initial save but didn’t quite cover it. Cuylle came rushing in, and poked it over the line.
“Sometimes you just have to get to the net and try to make it hard for him,” Kakko said.
Added Cuylle: “I knew it was probably going to be a rebound goal or something dirty in the crease.”
The line played well beyond just the goal. The Rangers had 90 percent of the expected goal share when the trio was on the ice.
“They’ve been in the offensive zone, they’ve dragged lines down there and they make them play defense,” Laviolette said. “They’ve done some positive things other than just contributing on the scoreboard.”
Rookie gives steady performance
Rookie Adam Edstrom played only 9:23 in his second NHL game, but Laviolette notably put the 6-foot-7 forward on the ice for a shift with less than four minutes left and the Rangers protecting a one-goal lead.
“There wasn’t anything in the game that made me feel like he couldn’t play in the last five, six minutes of the game,” Laviolette said. “I thought he did a good job.”
The coach implied his NHL audition will continue, saying the Rangers will “start to work him into different scenarios.”
(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)