Shesterkin Returning to Form at Right Time

With the playoffs around the corner, the Rangers’ netminder has found his game after a bit of a rough patch.

You weren’t actually worried about Igor Shesterkin, were you?

After all, the New York Rangers’ star goaltender has excelled at every level he’s played, and took home a slam-dunk Vezina Trophy last season after posting a record of 36-13-4 with an absurd .935 save percentage and a stingy 2.07 goals-against average. His unadjusted goals-saved-above-expected (GSAx) of 37.87 (per Evolving Hockey) also led the league.

Shesterkin’s 2021-22 season was historically good, so expecting a repeat of that this season would have been somewhat unreasonable. Indeed, Shesterkin has been good this season, but not great, and a rough patch coming out of the All-Star break might have generated some of that aforementioned worry.

Alas, the past few weeks have seen Shesterkin return to his elite form, effectively quelling those concerns and underscoring that no one should have been worried on a macro-level in the first place.

Post-All-Star Break Struggles

Let’s provide some context to ultimately highlight Shesterkin’s return to form. We already know about his gaudy numbers from last season. Across the entire 2022-23 season to this point, Shesterkin has an excellent record of 34-12-7. His goals-against average of 2.54 and save percentage of .914 are certainly respectable numbers, but not elite. He no longer leads the league in unadjusted GSAx either, but is in the top 10 with a respectable mark of 17.74.

In the wake of last year’s all-time performance, Shesterkin’s 2022-23 season can seem like a major disappointment. But he set an unfair bar for himself in 2021-22. If you want to know what bad goaltending really looks like, check out this year’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coming out of the All-Star Break, though, Shesterkin’s play actually did dip down to what could legitimately be characterized as poor, and that stretch lasted for about a month. From Feb. 6 through March 9, Shesterkin appeared in 10 games. During that time, his save percentage dipped all the way down to an ugly .870, while his goals-against average ballooned to 3.45. Perhaps even more telling was the fact that his unadjusted GSAx resided in the negative, at minus-5.10. That ranked him 69th in the league (not nice) across that span, and was an unimaginably bad number for someone so accomplished and still very much in his prime.

This clearly was not an accurate representation of the goalie Shesterkin had been for his whole career. All players — even the most accomplished in the league — go through slumps, and that’s all this ultimately was for Shesterkin. A few bad breaks go against you, you have one or two off-nights, and suddenly it snowballs into something that’s as much mental as it is physical.

At the same time, the longer Shesterkin’s slump persisted, the more urgency there was around him needing to to find his game ahead of the postseason. Even with as much firepower as they have, the Rangers would likely not make much noise at all without Shesterkin being himself.

Shesterkin’s Recent Turnaround

Over the past three weeks, Shesterkin has risen back up to elite status, and in so doing has turned the Rangers into a very scary-looking team as the postseason looms.

Since that prevously mentioned rough patch, Shesterkin has turned things around. His 32-save performance against the Buffalo Sabres in a 2-1 road overtime win on March 11 was a welcome sight after his prior struggles, and helped the Rangers salvage two points while they were still figuring things out after acquiring Patrick Kane.

Since and including that game, Shesterkin has posted a sparkling .947 save percentage, a 1.71 goals-against average, and a GSAx count of 7.42, which ranks second in the league during that span. In the seven games in which Shesterkin has played during that time, the Rangers are 6-1-0.

It’s been a night-and-day difference between Shesterkin’s first 10 games after the All-Star Break and his seven since then. With a playoff spot secured and Shesterkin playing his best hockey of the season, the Rangers appear to be well-positioned for another strong postseason run. Now it’s a matter of staying healthy and maintaining good habits for the remainder of the regular season — and perhaps surpassing the New Jersey Devils for home-ice advantage in the first round.

All statistics obtained via Evolving Hockey.