We can pick at the line combinations, at the head coach’s allotment of ice time, at the regression of most of the kids who have been unable to use last year’s playoffs as a springboard to success, at the team’s lack of resilience.
We can and we have. More than once.
But that’s kind of like being unable to see the forest for the trees.
The primary reason the Rangers have not been able to replicate their performance from a year ago is that, 23 games into the season, last year’s Vezina winner would not get a single vote for the trophy if the balloting were conducted today.
Igor Shesterkin knows it and Igor Shesterkin is wearing it after surrendering another four goals in Monday’s depressing, but not unexpected 5-3 empty-net abetted defeat to the Devils at the Garden that left the Blueshirts a staggering 14 points behind New Jersey.
“The goalie played a s–t game again,” Shesterkin said without a translator after surrendering at least a couple of wonky ones in a game the Blueshirts actually led 2-0 after 3:01 of play. “I’m ashamed.”
The other day, one player mused that the team wasn’t able to avoid damage following mistakes the way it did last year. He seemed to think maybe this was just bad luck or happenstance. But it is not.Igor Shesterkin reacts after allowing a goal in the Rangers’ loss to the Devils on Monday.AP
A year ago, in posting a .935 save percentage that ranks third all time among goalies with at least 50 starts, Shesterkin was the ultimate fixer. He could have played the Harvey Keitel role in “Pulp Fiction.” Shesterkin not only acted as a security blanket, his swagger infused the team with confidence.
This is a team with a glass jaw. When they get knocked down, they can’t get up again.
“When something goes wrong, it starts to snowball,” Ryan Lindgren said after the Blueshirts surrendered four straight goals within 21:27 bridging the first and second periods after allowing four straight to Edmonton within 13:18 of the third period on Saturday. “It takes us too long to get back to our game.”
Henrik Lundqvist papered over deficiencies year after year after year. If everyone could do that, every goaltender would be on his way to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Shesterkin did it last year. Thus far, despite an encouraging short run a week ago, his shoulders have not been big enough to carry the load.
Again, the entire group shares the blame, and that includes Gerard Gallant, the coach who has a team filled with underachieving athletes. But the bottom line is that the Rangers cannot survive with average goaltending, let alone inferior goaltending.Igor ShesterkinRobert Sabo
This night, Shesterkin pointed the finger at himself for being inferior. He said that he should have stopped, “every goal.”
“Easy plays for me, I have to stop [them],” he said. “I have to play better.”
Asked if there was a particular area he needs to improve, there was yet another succinct response: “Everything.”
A year ago, Shesterkin recorded a save percentage of the NHL average .907 or below in 14 of his 52 starts. This one in which he surrendered four goals on 37 shots marked the ninth time in 17 starts he’s been below that number.
It isn’t necessarily the tough ones. Shesterkin’s high-danger save percentage of .877 (Natural Stat Trick) ranks sixth in the NHL but his low-danger unblocked shot attempt save percentage of .962 (MoneyPuck) ranks 25th in the league.
No team can survive pucks going in at the most unexpected moments. See: New Jersey the last few years. Now see the difference in this 19-4 club from the other side of the Hudson that almost seems out of the Rangers’ reach.
The Blueshirts shot out of the gate with their most impressive 181 seconds of the season. Unfortunately, there were another 3,419 seconds to go. That was way too many for this psychologically wounded and fragile team.
Jacob Trouba committed yet another egregious turnover that eventually wound up behind Shesterkin. “Accountable for that one,” said the captain.
Alexis Lafreniere committed a third-period penalty below the offensive goal line for the second straight game. Come on already with all the excuses for the third-year pro.
The Rangers are not only bending, they are on their way to breaking, The fact of the matter is they cannot rely on Shesterkin to save them.
This is the scariest thought of them all.