The schedule is set for the Rangers over the next three weeks. Traveling to Toronto on July 26, facing the Islanders on the 29th, and then qualifying/play-in round against Carolina, which could last until August 8th. That is less than three weeks from now. In case you have not been paying attention, the best of five with the Canes starts on August 1st at noon. That means there is much to be decided in less than 3 weeks, a schedule that Head Coach David Quinn says is “enough time to get ready.” In the Zoom presser today, Quin reiterated that he felt that this is “the right plan by the league and the players’ association; we feel comfortable with the schedule.”
Who the starting goalie will be is the question on the minds of every Rangers’ fan, the press, the players and, most importantly, the coaching staff. With a day off tomorrow Coach Quinn said that it will be a “good time to reassess” the goaltending situation. Although he did not make any commitment about choosing a starter tomorrow for either the exhibition game or the first game of the qualifier, it appears that some sort of decision will need to be made in the next few days. In today’s full scrimmage (after two days of focusing on defense and special teams), it was Henrik Lundqvist who played the full 40 minutes in goal, and Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev who split the other net. All three goalies look good, but one has to think that Shesterkin would have the edge to be the starter–based upon his regular season play and the confidence he has shown since this camp convened on Monday.
Shesterkin himself was humble today saying (through interpreter, Director of European Scouting, Nick Bobrov) that, although he is working hard to reach his goal of being the number one goaltender, the ultimate decision lies with the coaching staff. And “no matter what, I will support my teammates.” Shesterkin said that he felt 100% physically, and that he had the opportunity to work out twice with Alexander Ovechkin while in Florida during the break. Saying that training with lots of other Russian players (and Ovechkin) was a wonderful experience, Shesterkin also mentioned his friend Ilya Sorokin in his time with the press. The Islanders new goalie, who signed an ELC (and then an extension) earlier this week, will have a friendly rivalry with Shesterkin. Shesterkin said that he spoke to Sorokin a lot on the phone prior to the signing and that he would be happy to greet him to New York “with a red carpet.”
During today’s presser, Shesterkin also talked about the influence of Lundqvist on him. He spoke of Henrik’s unbelievable work ethic, and although he would not indicate specifics (in fact, Shesterkin said, “I am not going to tell you what I learned”), it was clear that he has soaked up many things from Lundqvist since being recalled from Hartford in January.
Whether or not Shesterkin takes his place between the pipes this summer, he will only be part of the Rangers’ arsenal against Carolina. To win, New York will be needing a very strong offense. Although head-to-head during the regular season, the Rangers defeated Carolina four games to none, since the Blueshirts last met them in February, before the Canes got Dougie Hamilton back and added Brady Skjei on their blueline. Their defense is formidable to say the least. The Rangers have at least two scoring lines; what they will need however is offense from their third line. The Kreider-Mika-Buchnevich line is set (Quinn said today that whatever has kept Buchnevich out of part of yesterday’s practice and all of today’s scrimmage will not keep him out of the qualifying round), as is the Panarin-Strome-Fast line. Who needs to step up is the Phil De Giuseppe-Chytil-Kakko line. Kakko, who stepped into a first line role today with Buchnevich’s absence, is having a tremendous camp. By all accounts, he looks like a different player, and he will have to be for the Rangers to keep coming at Carolina with shot after shot from all three lines. This line must be as dangerous in execution as their talent projects. Two lines can be handled by the Canes’ very powerful defense—three is another matter all-together.
The first test will be the Islanders in 10 days—that is when we will begin to see if this line has what it takes to help take the Rangers into the playoffs. Until then, there is a day off tomorrow and then five six more days of practices.