SAN JOSE, Calif. — Igor Shesterkin had not had a full practice since Jan. 5, had not played since Jan. 2 and was just cleared from COVID-19 protocol Thursday morning after being sidelined for three games over the past week.
Yet he got the starting assignment, and the 37-save shutout, Thursday in the Rangers’ 3-0 win over the Sharks while Alexandar Georgiev backed up and Keith Kinkaid returned to the taxi squad.
Shesterkin had started only three of the Rangers’ previous 15 games since suffering a groin injury during the third period of a 1-0 victory over the Sharks at the Garden on Dec. 3. The 26-year-old Russian missed eight games rehabbing, returned for the first of three straight starts on Dec. 29 and backed up one game before testing positive last week.
“I don’t think he gets enough attention,” acting coach Kris Knoblauch said of Shesterkin, who apparently got onto the ice once back at home after his positive result was announced on Jan. 6. “In New York he does, but around the NHL when you talk about the elite goalies in the league, maybe he gets mentioned once in a while but he should be mentioned in that conversation all the time.”
Georgiev, coming off a run of four straight starts for the first time in his NHL career, recorded a 5-4-1 record with a .931 save percentage and 2.06 goals-against average in 10 starts and 11 appearances since Shesterkin first was sidelined early last month.
Alexis Lafreniere, Ryan Reaves, Julien Gauthier and Barclay Goodrow were in COVID protocol. Dryden Hunt joined the team for the morning skate, but remained on injured reserve with the upper-body injury he sustained at Vegas on Jan. 6.
The Rangers won 214 of 405 draws (52.8 percent) over the previous nine games entering Thursday and had climbed to 25th in the NHL in faceoff efficiency at 47.7 percent. Zibanejad won 93 of his 154 draws over that stretch for 60.3 percent, elevating his season work at the dots to 51.8 percent.
Justin Richards joined the taxi squad Thursday.