Shesterkin’s long-awaited debut a success in New York
Igor Shesterkin has officially arrived in the NHL! It was an event that New York Rangers fans and us here at InGoal Magazine have been anticipating for a very long time – dating back to when the 24-year-old was drafted all the way back in 2014. After posting a .932 save percentage in 23 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL this season (his first experience of professional hockey in North America) he was recalled by the Rangers and was immediately given his first opportunity.
That opportunity? It came under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden against one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL this season – the Colorado Avalanche. Shesterkin continued to do what he has done all season: Stop pucks and win hockey games. The Rangers took down the Avs 5-3, and Shesterkin skated away with a tidy 29-save performance in his debut.
Back in early 2018, we offered a style comparison between Shesterkin and fellow Russian Ilya Sorokin’s game. While Sorokin was deemed to be a far more aggressive and unpredictable goaltender, Shesterkin was seen as more polished between the two goaltenders. His transitions were much cleaner, and his overall post-integration was more advanced than the future New York Islander Sorokin.
Time would tell if Shesterkin’s more laid-back approach and deeper positioning would be an issue when moving to North America and facing better shooters. Interestingly enough, it looks as if he has already taken a few steps to rectify some of these possible issues. Judging from his early success, he’s made some excellent adjustments to his game.
We’ll go over some of those changes as we go along and break down his NHL debut from Tuesday night.
It wasn’t a very rosy start for Shesterkin. He allowed his first goal against less than five minutes into the contest after being beaten by a tip in front from J.T. Compher. He looked to be in good shape as the puck was worked around the zone, but may have been caught a bit by surprise on a quick shot from the point by Samuel Girard. With two Avalanche players in front of the net acting as screens, Shesterkin lost sight of the shot and didn’t pick up the deflection until it was too late.
Shesterkin, although positioned deep in the crease, wasn’t in terrible position to make a potential save on the play. He was overlapped slightly to his blocker side – the side in which the tip was eventually made. His fatal flaw was the loss of sight on the shot, which caused him to bring his hands back towards his pads, dropping into a blocking position. He wasn’t able to react in time to stop what was one heck of a tip by Compher.
His fatal flaw was the loss of sight on the shot, which caused him to bring his hands back towards his pads, dropping into a blocking position. He wasn’t able to react in time to stop what was one heck of a tip by Compher.
Shortly thereafter, things went from bad to worse for Shesterkin and the Rangers. An egregious turnover at the blue line by his defence to one of the most dangerous shooters in the game, Nathan MacKinnon, led to a breakaway goal and a stunning 2-0 deficit only 6:34 in.
Now, giving up a breakaway goal to Nathan MacKinnon is hardly something to over-analyze. He will victimize the best NHL goaltenders on a good day. There is one interesting takeaway from how Shesterkin plays the situation. Our earlier analysis from when he played in the KHL noted that he plays with a very wide base. His stance tends to widen out as the play draws nearer to the crease, and this became very evident in the one-on-one situation with MacKinnon.
MacKinnon, being the deft sniper that he is, honed in on that and slid the puck through the five-hole.
[Shesterkin] plays with a very wide base. His stance tends to widen out as the play draws nearer to the crease, and this became very evident in the one-on-one situation with MacKinnon.
“I wasn’t panicking. I just laughed it off and saved the next one,” Shesterkin told the media after the game through a translator. Then he stopped the next one, and the next one, and the next one. He essentially shut things down from that point on, showing great poise for a goaltender making his NHL debut. There was no downward spiral – only a concerted effort to simplify and give his team a chance to dig themselves out of a hole.
His first major stop came with about eight minutes remaining in the opening frame. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Avs developed a tic-tac-toe play on a puck that came close to being cleared at the blue line. A quick touch from Nazem Kadri worked the puck below the goal line, setting up a low-to-high pass right onto the tape of a wide open Gabriel Landeskog.
The first thing to look at on this save is to watch Shesterkin’s head. He didn’t turn his head too quickly towards the back door threat, he made sure to watch it all the way across which kept his body square to the puck throughout the entire path – and also gave him the ability to react if it deflected off his defenceman’s stick.
His movement was very simple and compact. It was a load and push off the post with his right skate, straight across the goal line into skate-on-post with his left skate. The skate hitting the post was important because it not only kept him within the frame, preventing him from oversliding, but it also allowed him to create a hinge and rotate his body to square up to the shot from Landeskog – all within a fraction of a second.
Many goalies and goaltending coaches are strictly opposed to using skate-on-post, but this is a prime example of how you can use it to your advantage in a bang-bang situation like this.
The skate hitting the post was important because it not only kept him within the frame, preventing him from oversliding, but it also allowed him to create a hinge and rotate his body to square up to the shot from Landeskog – all within a fraction of a second.
Another one of Shesterkin’s strengths that we acknowledged in our previous analysis was his ability to battle through tough screens by getting low and fighting for sight lines. This was very noticeable on a few chances that Colorado defenceman Cale Makar had throughout the night.
There was one instance that was particularly impressive. With the puck near the blue line, Makar walked in to the top of the circle and used his excellent edgework to change the shooting angle at the last second – utilizing both an Avalanche player and two Rangers defenders as screens. This is a move that Makar has worked to perfection throughout the early stages of his NHL career, and is a very tough read for a goaltender with obscured vision.
Shesterkin, recognizing the threat, transitioned from his relaxed stance into the lower stance that we identified earlier. With an excellent sight line to the left side of the screen, he was able to read that Makar was dragging the puck towards the slot in an attempt to change the shooting angle and open up some net. A simple shift to the right completely centred him to the new angle, and he took the shot in the chest – smothering it with no rebound.
[Shesterkin] was able to read that Makar was dragging the puck towards the slot in an attempt to change the shooting angle and open up some net. A simple shift to the right completely centred him to the new angle.
Lastly, there were two dead angle plays on Shesterkin that didn’t receive replays on the NBC broadcast but deserve to be highlighted. The first one was a rush that came down on his blocker side in the middle portion of the game, and the second was when the Avalanche were pressing late with the net empty.
On the first play, Shesterkin is able to read that he had three defenders back to cover the middle of the ice. As the camera pans across the blue line, you can literally see him take his eye off the puck, turn his head and count the bodies that are coming down on this rush. With the knowledge (and trust in the defence) that a back-door play is unlikely, he decided to employ the overlap to his blocker side. This is noteworthy, because this isn’t something that we saw him use a lot of during his time in the KHL. This correct usage also shows a potential development in his play-reading and ability to quickly identify threats off the rush.
With the knowledge (and trust in the defence) that a back-door play is unlikely, [Shesterkin] decided to employ the overlap to his blocker side. This is noteworthy, because this isn’t something that we saw him use a lot of during his time in the KHL.
The second dead-angle play worth highlighting came in the dying moments of the game while clinging to a one-goal lead. Landeskog was once again set up in front of the net and attempted to beat Shesterkin on a sharp angle shot, but a textbook reverse-VH seal on the post shut that play down quickly and steered the puck behind the net.
The shot looked to actually ramp up Shesterkin’s stick, which he held in excellent position. If Landeskog decided to pass to the other side of the crease from that position, it would have been just as easy to use the stick to obstruct the passing lane. Combine that with one of the most solid seals you will ever see, and the loaded weight on his left leg ready to spring into action at any moment – you can see why words like ‘polished’ were being used to desscribe Shesterkin’s post-integration.
Landeskog was once again set up in front of the net and attempted to beat Shesterkin on a sharp angle shot, but a textbook reverse-VH seal on the post shut that play down quickly and steered the puck behind the net.
It will likely take a handful of starts for Shesterkin to fully get accustomed to the speed of the NHL level, which could help explain the difficult start to his first game, but the Rangers have to be elated with the development that they’ve seen from their young netminder. With the extreme amount of hype surrounding his debut, having him walk away with such a positive experience will only help his confidence. This may also serve as a bit of a turning point for the Rangers as a team, who are in desperate need of a spark if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Heartwarming story aside, the Rangers need wins – and that’s what Shesterkin is here to provide. In fact, he’s quite accustomed to winning. In the 132 professional games between the KHL, AHL, and NHL that he’s played since getting drafted in 2014, he’s only lost 18 times.
Judging by the development shown in his debut, those winning ways should continue to follow him to the NHL level.