The Rangers have overcome every obstacle they have faced so far this season, but a quarter of the way, their most difficult challenge has just arrived.
Goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin, who gave Rangers most of the credit for their third best start in history, was put into injured reserve on Saturday ahead of the team’s clash with the Black Hawks at Madison Square Garden. Rangers will play eight matches in the next 13 days, and Shesterkin will miss, at least, three.
The 25-year-old Shesterkin could barely bring himself to his skis and had to be helped out in the locker room in the third period of Rangers’ 1-0 win over the Sharks on Friday night. And although coach Gerard Gallant said coaches told him Chesterkin’s injury wasn’t as bad as it seemed, the goalkeeper’s history suggests otherwise.
The last time Rangers said Chesterkin was a “day by day”, in March of last season, he missed three weeks and missed 10 games.
“We’ve had a lot of growth in the last year or two,” Ryan Strom said after Friday’s win. “We are able to deal with these things, no matter who goes down. We played a lot of games where we played 11 strikers, either the players got injured or whatever. I think the players responded well off the bench, they just lifted it up, and they made sure we helped. [backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev] Outside. He came and did his job, he’s a good goalkeeper. He was waiting for an opportunity and went there and finished [it] turning off.”
“That’s what good teams do. Next man.”
Rangers had to practice the “next man” mantra multiple times during their first 22 games.
After just three games of the season, Rangers lost two of their top six when Ström missed four games while on COVID-19 protocol and Capo Kaku fell to the injured reserve with an upper body injury. Then it was Rangers’ fourth streak without one of his key players, Ryan Reeves, who went to IR and missed four games from October 29 to November. 5.
Rangers were in midfield after Philip Sheetel was eliminated for three competitions with an upper body injury on the injured reserve in mid-November. Recently, Rangers lost Sami Blaze to this season due to a rupture in the AFC Champions League after the crushing winger made one of the most promising starts to the season.
So the team skater depth was tested, but now it can all be about who plays between the tubes. This time around, it will be up to Georgiev and Adam Huska, who was recalled by the organization from AHL Hartford on Saturday.
Georgiev was already going to start on Saturday night against the Black Hawks, but he may now see more playing time in a shorter period than he’s seen all season so far.
Rangers will have to compete as they did in the second half of their win on Friday. And he limited the sharks to six high-risk opportunities only in the last two periods, and Rangers surrounded them, while Georgiev managed to tackle nine chances in the 14:52 minute.
“We’re in 22 games and I think it took us in the first 10 or 12 games, we weren’t very happy with the way we played despite winning hockey games,” Gallant said. “But I think it has changed since then. The last 10 matches have been very good for me.”
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