It was the sequel that the Rangers and their fans were waiting for. Igor Shesterkin has returned.
The former Vezina Trophy winner made 30 saves and posted his first shutout of the season in a 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden last night.
It was the 12th career shutout for the Russian goaltender, who has now won two in a row since returning from the All Star game where he seemed to regain some of his confidence.
The personal achievement did not appear to faze Shesterkin, who would rather pile up some “W’s.” “I look for wins. If I get a shutout, I’ll be happy, but most important is wins,” he said after the game.
The Rangers and Shesterkin made Will Cuylle’s second period goal stand up until Jimmy Vesey could seal the deal with an empty netter in the third period.
Despite not getting a whole lot of chances in the first period, Shesterkin looked sharp when he was challenged and made some strong saves, including one with the glove on the Rangers ol’ nemesis, Calgary’s Nazem Kadri.
The Rangers were not putting any pucks past Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom in the first period. Markstrom came in hot, having won 7 of his last 9 starts and was fabulous in net, despite the loss.
The 34-year old, who has been the subject of trade rumors, made 29 saves, including 11 in a scoreless first period and was the third star of the game as he made some spectacular stops, otherwise, the Rangers may have had four or five goals. Shesterkin was going to have to bring his “A” game in order to get the two points.
“I thought Shesty played a heckuva game for us, especially when there’s not a lot of work in the first, then you’re relied on more in the second and then in the third, they’re pushing on a 1-0 game,” Coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought he was really good.”
Just over a minute and a half into the second period, Connor Zary, a good looking young player and Calgary’s first round pick and 24th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, nearly scored the first goal of the game when he hit the post.
The Rangers third line provided the first goal of the game.
Kappo Kakko skated down the right side and fired the puck on Markstrom. Cuylle went hard to the net and was able to get it past the Flames 6’6” goaltender for a 1-0 lead.
“It was just trying to get to the net, trying to simplify. I knew it was probably going to be a rebound goal, dirty in the crease, so just trying to get to the net,” said the rookie who is growing with each game.
Kakko and Jonny Brodzinski had the assists on Cuylle’s 9th goal of the season at 12:31 of the second period.
“They’ve been producing, they’ve been a real positive factor, I think, in our lineup. The [Jonny] Brodzinki, Cuylle, and [Kappo] Kakko line has been really good,” said Laviolette. “There’s a good blend there. They’ve done a good job of creating, it’s not just the goals that they’ve scored but they’ve been in the offenzive zone and they’ve dragged lines down there and they make them play defense.”
With the Rangers holding a one goal lead in the third, Shesterkin and Markstrom were like dueling goaltenders as both made critical saves to keep the score, 1-0.
Early in the third period, Shesterkin denied Magnus Andersson with a glove save and then he made back to back saves on Blake Coleman, the Flames’ leading goal scorer, who was left alone with a prime scoring chance. Coleman tried a wrister on the first shot and when he got his own rebound, Shesterkin was able to deny him on a second opportunity.
Markstrom shined when he saved K’Andre Miller’s breakaway attempt with a little over three minutes left. Miller, who was at the end of a shift, broke in on Markstrom and tried to go five hole on the Flames goaltender, who closed it off.
Vesey sealed the deal when he forechecked Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin deep in the offensive zone. Hanifin was trying to evade Vesey, who poked the puck away, stole it and fired it into the open net for his 12th goal and a 2-0 lead with :19 seconds remaining.
Adam Edstrom was recalled and skated on a fourth line with Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey. Edstrom, who was played in his second NHL game, was credited with three hits in 9:23 of ice time. The 6’7” winger gives the Rangers some more size and is not afraid to mix it up.
“He’s a big guy that just skates so well, his stick is big. I like his physicality, I like his awareness. He was a player that played good defense down there, he killed penalties,” Laviolette said. “I thought he came in and played a pretty smart game, pretty good game.”
The only downer to the night was that the Rangers continue to struggle on the power play. They were 0 for 3 in this one with the man advantage and are 0 for their last 17 over the last seven games.
Laviolette tweaked the first unit as he used Brodzinski, Blake Wheeler, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox. The second unit had Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, Alexis LaFreniere, Kappo Kakko and Erik Gustafsson, but neither unit was able to break through.
The Rangers will host Montreal on Thursday at MSG and then it’s the Stadium Series game on Sunday against the Islanders at Met Life Stadium. It will be the first game against the Islanders in over a calendar year. The heated rivals last met on December 22, 2022.
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