NEW YORK — The wait for Igor Shesterkin to arrive on Broadway took more than five years.
The wait for the first NHL goal the much-hyped goalie prospect would allow took less than five minutes.
The very first shot Shesterkin saw in his regular-season debut Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche resulted in a deflection goal from J.T. Compher. He saved the second shot on goal, but the third turned into a breakaway goal for Nathan MacKinnon.
After posting a .932 save percentage for AHL Hartford — and a .953 mark last season for KHL St. Petersburg — Shesterkin’s NHL save percentage began at .333.
It was far from an ideal way to start his career at the highest level, but it became the type of moment the 24-year-old Russian will look back on with a smile.
Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers tends net against the Colorado Avalanche while playing in his first NHL game at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 7, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)
It’ll be easier to do so knowing that the Rangers came away with a 5-3 win in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd, with Shesterkin allowing only one more goal after a rough opening 6:34.
“Honestly, I wasn’t panicking,” he said through an interpreter. “I kind of just laughed it off, saved the next (shots) and gained confidence as the game went on.”
The No. 118 pick in the 2014 draft admitted to feeling nerves heading into his first NHL start.
“On my way to the arena, my hands were shaking,” he said. “I couldn’t even drink water. But as I stepped on the ice, I felt everyone’s support and energy, and that really helped me.”
LINEUP: Top goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin to make NHL debut
Shesterkin finished with 29 saves, providing a small glimpse into the fortitude he’s been noted for in both the KHL and AHL.
He made 13 of those saves in a scoreless third period, showing poise in the face of late-game pressure from the high-powered Avalanche.
“That just shows he’s a competitor,” Brady Skjei said. “Obviously, it was a little bit adversity. I don’t know if it was the first shot or not that went in, but he battled back and definitely kept us in the game. He did a great job controlling his rebounds, and as a defenseman, that’s something we really appreciate.”
Rangers coach David Quinn committed to starting Shesterkin against Colorado, but said, “There’s really been no long-term conversation about what we’re going to do moving forward.”
The Rangers (20-18-4) are the only team in the NHL carrying three healthy goalies on their active roster. Henrik Lundqvist was the backup Tuesday and Alexandar Georgiev was scratched from the lineup.
The Rangers will host the New Jersey Devils at home Thursday, and it’s anyone’s guess who will be next in net.
“We all knew that eventually that he was going to be called up because of the way he was playing,” Quinn said of Shesterkin. “Hank’s been an incredible pro — certainly since I’ve been here for the past year and a half. He understands that he’s going to continue to play and get opportunities, and as Hank said yesterday, ‘When I play, I’ve just got to play the best of my ability.’ I think this is new for all of us.”
The Rangers responded to the 2-0 deficit by scoring the next three goals of the game.
Chris Kreider got it going by redirecting a pass from Ryan Strome for a power-play goal at the 8:57 mark.
The tying goal came from Mika Zibanejad before the end of the first period, which was set up by a pass from Tony DeAngelo. It was Zibanejad’s 17th goal in 29 games this season.
Just over eight minutes into the second period, Skjei gave the Rangers a temporary lead with a big slap shot on a one-timer from Adam Fox.
“It kind of had eyes,” Skjei said of the shot. “I hit it pretty good. It felt good to get us the lead there.”
The Avalanche tied it at 3 on Compher’s second goal of the game, but the Rangers retook the lead quickly.
Strome scored the winner at the 13:39 mark in the second period, which was set up by Jesper Fast fighting through traffic near the net to gather a rebound from Artemi Panarin. He kicked it out to Strome, who had a wide-open net for his 12th goal and 39th point of the season.
“That kind of shows the character that we built in here,” Zibanejad said. “Early in the season, we will probably just folded and not been able to come back and respond the way we did.”
Panarin finished with an empty-net goal and two assists — upping his season total to 58 points — while Fast established a career-high with three assists and DeAngelo added two. DeAngelo set a new career-high with 31 points.
The Rangers played the final two periods without rookie defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who left the game with an upper-body injury after fighting Nazem Kadri.
Quinn didn’t seem to have any long-term concerns with Lindgren.
“We kept him out for precautionary reasons,” he said. “We think he’s going to be fine.”
More takeaways from Vin
- True to form, Shesterkin said, “I can play a lot better.” And after getting this nervous night out of the way, it’s a good bet he will. Quinn joked that, “He didn’t look nervous when he made that 70-foot saucer pass,” which you can watch below. But you have to like how he: A) Played his best with the game on the line in the third period; and B) Showed a good glove and the ability to prevent second chances for the opposition. “He did really good job of swallowing pucks from the point,” Skjei said. “That really stood out to me, is the way he controlled his rebounds.”
- I couldn’t help but laugh at the way Quinn opened his postgame press conference. When asked about Shesterkin’s debut, and giving up goals on two of the first three shots he faced — including a turnover that led to a breakaway — he joked, “Well, we didn’t hesitate to give him a taste of Ranger hockey.” (Those who are making a big deal out of that quote on social media really need to lighten up.)
- Once he got serious, Quinn sounded very encouraged with the way the Rangers have played in the last two games. They did a lot of good things in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks and carried it over by beating one of the most dangerous teams in the league Tuesday. “I didn’t think we took our foot off the pedal,” he said. “I thought we kept playing and established our forecheck. I thought we defended well. Another big (penalty) kill in the third period. I really liked the feel. There was a lot of energy before the game, and hopefully we’re going to continue this maturation that we’ve shown over the last — really, it started after the first period of the Calgary game where we gave up three and I get the feeling that our guys said, ‘Enough’s enough. There’s no way we can play like this.’ “
- The Rangers have had more games than I can count in which they’ve allowed 40-plus shots on net. Candidly, I thought this had the potential to be another night like that. Colorado entered the game tied for the league lead in goals per game at 3.6, so this was a big test. Limiting them to 32 shots is a step in the right direction considering some of the porous defense we’ve seen this season. Even the Rangers’ advanced numbers — shot rates, expected goals, etc. — are beginning to improve. “I know we gave up three (goals) tonight, but we certainly limited the chances and it wasn’t the fire drill it can be in our end, or that up-and-down game that can really hurt you against a team like this,” Quinn said.
- Another area where I thought the Rangers were better was creating traffic and screens in front of the net. Kreider’s goal was a deflection from the door step, and Fast set a screen on Skjei’s goal and dug out a rebound on Strome’s winner. It’s something that Quinn has harped on and hasn’t happened enough up to this point, but it was noticeable Tuesday. “That was a point of emphasis going into the game, was to get that net traffic,” Skjei said. “It’s hard cause when the shots coming, that’s when D starts pushing you out of the way. To maintain that traffic in front, our forwards did a great job of that tonight.”
- This feels like it’s worth noting. With Lindgren out, Skjei finished with a game-high 27:12 time on ice, which is second-highest total of his career.
- I had to come back and add this video of legendary comedian Larry David on the Michael Kay Show talking about Kaapo Kakko. It sounds like he’s a Rangers’ fan who would fit right in with the vocal crowd on Twitter. Check it out.
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