ST. PAUL, Minn. — There was no backtracking, no coach-speak, no walking around an answer. Instead, David Quinn doubled down on his earlier statement that “keeping people sharp is no longer a high priority of ours,” and unequivocally declared Igor Shesterkin the current No. 1 goalie of the Rangers’ three-headed netminding monster.
“Right now, that is the situation we’re in, because of [Shesterkin’s] play, for sure,” Quinn said before the team continued their road trip with a game here against the Wild on Thursday night.
Alex Georgiev was set to start this game, only because Shesterkin was dealing with a minor ankle injury suffered during the 4-1 win in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, the 24-year-old Russian’s sixth win in his first seven NHL games. Quinn called Shesterkin “day-to-day,” and didn’t rule him out for the second leg of this road back-to-back, coming Friday night in Columbus in what is a game that the Rangers surely think of as more important in light of their faint hopes of making the playoffs. The Blueshirts also play a Garden matinee on Sunday against the powerhouse Bruins.
But that setup also meant Henrik Lundqvist would back up yet again, the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer having started just two games since Shesterkin was called up on Jan. 5.
“I think when you get three goalies and you were in the situation we were in, you’re a little bit sensitive to everybody,” Quinn said. “You want to give everybody an opportunity and see how this thing unfolds. I thought everybody had an ample opportunity and everybody had a chance to state their case. I just felt that Igor made the most impact and was in a position to ride him for a little while.”
Shesterkin has lived up to all the hype that surrounded him in Russia, as he was putting up unfathomable numbers in the KHL — which has to be taken with a grain of salt, considering the lack of competitive balance in that league run by cutthroat oligarchs. But he finally came to North America this year and started the season with AHL Hartford, where his dominance continued, despite the smaller rink and different style of play.
The Rangers couldn’t keep him down there for too long, so after they returned from their New Year’s trip to western Canada, he was called up and the difficult situation of having three goalies on the roster began. Quinn has made it clear that the situation is “not ideal,” but the club keeps trudging along with no easy answer in sight.
It was assumed that general manager Jeff Gorton was shopping Georgiev, a 24-year-old Bulgarian who hasn’t proven to be a clear-cut No. 1 goalie in his first 68 games in the NHL, but has certainly proven that he belongs and could very well one day hold that mantle. But with Lundqvist having one more year left on his contract, carrying an $8.5 million salary-cap hit, and with the clout he holds in the locker room — not to mention the fact that he is still playing at a very high level — it seemed like Georgiev was the expendable one.
That might still be the case, but a trade might be better suited for the summer, with Georgiev set to be a restricted free agent.
Yet in a league where two goalies mostly sharing the net has become the norm, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Rangers find an amicable solution to part ways with Lundqvist — either asking him to waive his no-trade clause, or buying out the final year of his deal, which would create unwanted dead cap space for the next two seasons. Even with his 38th birthday coming March 2, Lundqvist is still a good goalie and is extremely valuable to the Rangers.
So is Georgiev, which is why the club finds themselves in this position.
“We’ve got confidence in all three of our goalies,” Quinn said.
Yet there is no longer a question as to who at the top of the pecking order — now, and into the foreseeable future.
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