Penguins Rangers Series | Shesterkin is human – and that’s a problem

How does an offensively weak and defensively weak team reach the playoffs?

Updated May 9th

Simon Olivier Lorange

Simon Olivier Lorange
The press

Thanks to effective special units. Thanks to a gigantic gap between the strongest and weakest clubs in his conference. And above all thanks to the skill of his goalkeeper.

New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin will win the Vezina Trophy this season. We’ve known that for months. And he’ll surely get votes for the Hart Trophy, which crowns his team’s most valuable player.

To date, only three goalies have maintained a season save ratio of .935 or higher while starting at least 50 games: Tim Thomas 2010-11, Dominik Hasek 1998-99 and Igor Shesterkin 2021-2022. The Russian literally just wrapped up one of the most prolific campaigns in NHL history on an individual level.

But he is human. That’s a problem for his team, who were unlucky to lose 7-2 in Pittsburgh on Monday. The Penguins have a 3-1 lead in this first-round series, which could end as early as Wednesday in New York.


PHOTO CHARLES LECLAIRE, USA TODAY SPORTS

Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust

In the first game of the series, Shesterkin was a Superman despite his people’s defeat. The 83 shots he received in about six thirds came close to a league record. In the second game, won by the New Yorkers, he excelled, repelling 39 of the 41 pucks aimed at him.

However, we tend to forget it, but at the end of that evening’s meeting, Jeff Carter and him collided. The contact, deep in the legs, wasn’t the most violent. The keeper had just dodged his own defender and Carter appeared to want to go around him. But Shesterkin was thrown into the air anyway and lay on the ice with a sports therapist for a long time before getting up again.

Did he hurt himself in that sequence? Good luck finding. But the fact is that since the beginning of the next game it no longer works for him at all.

In just under 54 minutes of a five-a-side game, split between Games 3 and 4, specialty site NaturalStatTrick calculates that Shesterkin was on the ice for an opponent’s 3.61 expected goals. However, he allowed seven and, in all situations combined, only saved 77.8% of the shots he faced.

Those are surreal numbers for a goalkeeper who has ‘saved’ 24 goals over the course of the season – the difference between goals expected and goals allowed.

The worst game

Just by looking, we can see that the 26-year-old goalkeeper is not in his normal state. But it’s not just that.

Before him, Rangers played perhaps the worst game imaginable for a team in the playoffs. Also, according to NaturalStatTrick, the Penguins won the Quality Points odds war five to five with an outrageous score of 20 to 1. Rarely have we seen such a collapse. Rangers were thought to have hit rock bottom in the second period, but the overmanship fest continued in the third.

We are indeed witnessing a clash between two old rivals, certainly, but also between two diametrically opposed philosophies in building a franchise.

The Rangers’ model is that of an accelerated reconstruction, hence incomplete. Some exceptional players, but many weaknesses, especially defensively. We rely on the goalkeeper for better or for worse.

On the other hand, where they won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 with little or no star defense – Kristopher Letang didn’t play – or in goal – in 2017, although Matt Murray was great that year.

Since these two conquests, it has been customary to bet against the penguins. As if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin reached the end of their exploits every year. However no. The two Superstars are still in great form, playing in an enormously well-trained roster that shines a light on unlikely heroes, as Steel City has done for years.


PHOTO CHARLES LECLAIRE, USA TODAY SPORTS

Sydney Crosby

At 28, Mike Matheson has just had the best season of his career. Evan Rodrigues had never broken the 30 point mark; 43 were added in 2021-22. Jeff Carter, 37, just wrapped up his most prolific production in five years. Danton Heinen, considered a support player, is now playing on Malkin’s left. Defenseman Mark Friedman, 26, scored Monday. Honestly, before meeting, how many details could you give about him?

The Penguins may not win the Stanley Cup. Probably not, because until proven otherwise their most experienced goalkeeper is Louis Domingue, which will be problematic against tougher opponents.

The fact remains that they know how to win. And they show it. The Rangers didn’t make it there. It’s a shame for her and for Igor Shesterkin who got her out of trouble so many times. It’s still part of a necessary learning curve on the road to a potentially formidable hockey machine for years to come.

However, sometimes learning has come the hard way. There are games like on Monday.

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