For anyone else, it might feel different, but Igor Shesterkin is not anyone else — a fact upon which much of the Rangers’ current situation is predicated.
The soon-to-be Vezina Trophy winner is in the midst of something resembling a rough patch, getting pulled for the second and third times in his three-year career over the last two weeks and losing three of five starts over that span.
Much of that, particularly in Tuesday’s 7-4 loss against the Devils, is not Shesterkin’s own fault but comes down to the play in front of him. The Rangers, accordingly, are not worried about their goaltender.
“No,” head coach Gerard Gallant told reporters. “Not at all.”
Tuesday’s letdown, including a five-goal second period for the Devils, was diagnosed by Ryan Strome as, “Some stupid hockey by everyone. Especially guys that usually don’t make those mistakes, myself included.”
Sitting alongside him, Chris Kreider agreed, bringing up a chance in which he passed the puck instead of shooting it — the opposite of what he practices every day. Soon after, the Devils scored to extend their lead to three.
“I certainly made some boneheaded plays,” Kreider said.
Not once in their diagnoses was Shesterkin brought up, and Gallant’s only comments on the netminder came when asked.
“He’s not tired,” Gallant said following Tuesday’s game. “He played an unbelievable game in Tampa Bay the other night. Again, it was our team, you play those two big games on the road, you win both those games. Carolina game we didn’t play well but we won so it was two big emotional wins.
“You come in here, a team that’s not in the playoffs, they’re a young team, a talented team and a skilled team. They’ve had trouble winning games, they’ve had so-called goalie issues but the kid [Nico Daws] played well tonight. He played well against us the last time we played. We just weren’t mentally sharp from what I saw.”
The Rangers’ coach characterized the decision to pull Shesterkin as one of mercy.
“You don’t wanna let the other guy hang out dry either,” he said. “I don’t blame the goalie. There was tap-in plays, there was nothing, so I’m not gonna leave him in there. He’s been great for us all year.”
Great enough to help the Rangers overcome five-on-five numbers that are in the bottom half of the league, and great enough to create a dependency. Lately, the Rangers have leaned hard enough on their goaltenders — don’t forget Alexandar Georgiev’s 44 saves against the Hurricanes over the weekend — that they’ve tested just how far that dependency will go.
Turns out, Shesterkin can’t bail them out every single night.
Come playoff time, the Rangers will likely need Shesterkin at his Hart Trophy-contending best to get anywhere. The team made a splash at the trade deadline — that will help — but anyone can see that Shesterkin’s league-leading .936 save percentage has everything to do with why the Blueshirts will almost certainly break their playoff drought this May.
What they do once they get there will ultimately come back to how far Shesterkin can take them as well.
Leaving Shesterkin on his own, though, would not help the situation.
“Weak hockey and soft hockey,” Strome called it.
Putting Tuesday in the rearview mirror shouldn’t be hard with the Penguins coming in on Friday. Just as well, it’s necessary.
“Obviously we’re a lot better than that,” Strome said. “We know that and we’ve responded pretty well all year.”