After beating the Devils and Jets over the weekend, the Rangers lost to the Wild on Tuesday night. It was “one of those games” you can expect over an 82-game regular season.
1. The Rangers weren’t going to win every game for the rest of the season, and Igor Shesterkin wasn’t going to play every game for the rest of the season. After three straight wins over the Blues (5-3), Devils (3-1) and Jets (4-1) and three more wins to add to Shesterkin’s historic season, the Rangers were due for a letdown performance. Alexandar Georgiev was due to play at some point. Both of those things happened on Tuesday and the Rangers lost to the Wild 5-2.
Georgiev isn’t Shesterkin. I don’t trust him and assume the worst for the Rangers when he’s in net. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a starting goalie somewhere. It just means he’s likely unable to be the Rangers’ backup. It’s not easy to go weeks without seeing game action, like Georgiev does, and be expected to step in and play at your best. It’s an art, and it’s an art that Georgiev hasn’t come close to mastering and maybe he never will. When Shesterkin was out for an extended period of time and Georgiev was able to get consistent starts, he was at his best. But prior to Sunday (February 27), Georgiev hadn’t started since January 27.
Georgiev’s last three starts came on January 27, February 27 and March 8. That’s three starts in 40 days. I don’t expect anyone to be on top of their game when used that inconsistently, especially not someone who has been accustomed to starting or at least very regular playing time for their career. Georgiev was extremely shaky on Tuesday night when Ryan Hartman found the back of the net from the top of the circles to give the Wild a 1-0 lead and again when a fluttering Joel Eriksson shot beat him to give the Wild a 2-0 lead.
2. You now have to go back to January 8 for Georgiev’s last win (a 4-1 victory in Anaheim), and the Rangers have lost his last five starts (which came across eight weeks). Georgiev will only return to the goalie who at times made people question if he should be the heir to Henrik Lundqvist if he is to get consistent playing time. But that can’t happen and won’t happen with the Rangers over a full season. Not with how good Shesterkin has been, not just this season but in his career.
3. Barring a monumental collapse, the Rangers are going to the postseason. They could play under-.500 hockey for their remaining 25 games and still finish with 100-plus points. Because of this, and because their remaining 25 games will be played over 51 days beginning on Thursday, there’s going to be a lot of Georgiev over the final seven-plus weeks of the season. There are four back-to-backs left and only a handful of times are there two days of rest between games. It’s not outrageous to think Georgiev could play 12 games the rest of the way. Maybe even more depending on when the Rangers clinch.
4. The Rangers are going to need Georgiev to play and they are going to need him to play somewhat well to avoid the monumental collapse and to avoid having to overuse Shesterkin when they will need to ride him for hopefully an extended period of time beginning in May. Georgiev will get his chance to be the 1A some thought he might be to Shesterkin, and more importantly (for him), he will get a chance to show the rest of the league he could be some other team’s No. 1 for 2022-23.
5. Last week, I wrote that Shesterkin should not only win the Vezina (he’s going to), but also the Hart. Normally, you have to actually play to help your candidacy for league MVP, but the best thing Shesterkin has going in potentially winning both awards is not playing. The drop-off from Georgiev to him is startling and after Tuesday’s loss, the Rangers fell to 0-8-1 against teams currently holding a playoff spot when Shesterkin doesn’t play. They are 12-6-1 when he does.
6. While Shesterkin was sitting on the Rangers’ bench watching his backup allow as many goals as Shesterkin has allowed in his last three starts, Auston Matthews, who seems to be Shesterkin’s biggest competition for the Hart was scoring a hat trick in Toronto against the Kraken. Matthews leads the league in goals (43) and is fourth in points (75), but he’s having the same season that has been had many times in league history. Shesterkin is having a season that has never been had. Ever. And he’s single-handedly the difference between the Rangers being in the Islanders’ position right now or being where they are: headed to the postseason.
7. Shesterkin wasn’t the only important piece of the Rangers on the bench. Alexis Lafreniere found himself watching Ryan Reaves taking his playing time with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider as the game went on. Yes, Reaves. Yes, playing top-six minutes over Lafreniere. Gerard Gallant decided a sloppy 30 or so minutes of one game against a very good home team was enough to screw with the lines and shuffle things to the point that a player who should more often than not be a healthy scratch is taking ice time from the first overall pick who has been scoring 0.50 goals per game over the last few weeks.
“They were playing the matchup game with their guys and I wanted Reavo to be on that side,” Gallant said. “Laffy did nothing wrong. Laffy has played great and I’m happy with him and I told him that. It was just the matchup for tonight and things will be back to normal.”
8. When Gallant made this inexplicable move, the Rangers were trailing. Not that it would have been acceptable or sensical if he had made the move to start the game or early in the game, but he waited until the game was essentially out of reach. Again, Gallant is extremely fortunate Shesterkin is having a season no one in history has ever had otherwise he would have to answer for a lot more of his decisions at more length than being able to brush them aside as final questions in his postgame press conferences.
9. Dryden Hunt scored, so that’s good. The goal breaks a 30-game drought. A 30-game drought for someone who plays top-six minutes and has Artemi Panarin as a linemate. It borders on the impossible of what Hunt just accomplished, but hey, that’s Gallant’s lineup. He can thank Shesterkin for being able to make decisions like that for nearly half a season.
10. In 163 games as a Ranger, Panarin has 215 points. He has averaged 108 points per 82 games and has done so with Hunt, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast being his linemates the majority of the time.
Panarin should have been league MVP in his first season with the Rangers, the same way Shesterkin should be this season. In Panarin’s situation, while he was the league’s most valuable player, you could have argued the other finalists. In Shesterkin’s situation, you really can’t. And with each game Shesterkin does or doesn’t play, the argument against him becomes less valid.