The goal that went in for the game winner did not get as much attention as the one that almost went in.
Artemi Panarin’s power play goal in the second period gave the Rangers a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, Sunday at Canadian Tire Centre, but it was goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who, as usual, stole the show.
Shesterkin made 29 saves, but he nearly scored his first NHL goal, late in the third period when the Senators pulled their goaltender, Filip Gustavsson.
With a little over a minute left and the Rangers clinging to a one goal lead, Shesterkin fired the puck the length of the ice and it just missed going in the net by a few inches.
Shesterkin’s ability to handle the puck is well known among his teammates and the league. “He’s [Shesterkin] probably a better passer than 75 or 80% of our team. I think guys would openly admit that too,” Ryan Strome said.
Shesterkin iced the puck in a one goal game but his coach had no problem with that. “There was nobody in front of him, he had lots of room. We trust him, he’s won a lot of games for us,” Gerard Gallant said. “They happen to knock one down and they score on us, you know what, we’ll move on. I enjoyed it. I wish it would’ve went in the net like everybody else.”
The 26 year old goaltender went on to record his 50th career win and is now 24-5-3 on the season as Gallant continues to ride the hot hand. “He’s outstanding, he makes strong saves for us,” Gallant said. “He’s a key guy on our hockey team. When we had a letdown, he bails us out.”
The Rangers wanted to get off to a good start but Ottawa took a 1-0 lead when Tim Stutzie scored at 4:52 of the first period. Despite the goal, the Rangers played better in this first period as opposed to some recent games.
“I thought we did a lot of good things. We had a good start, we gave up the first goal but I thought first two shifts were good,” Strome said.
Strome tied the game with his 10th goal of the season at 7:27. Braden Schneider took a cross ice pass from Panarin and fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line that never got through, but Strome was able to gather it and put it in past Gustavsson from the right side of the net.
“You always want to score, good look by Schneids and good play by Bread,” said Strome. “Nice to execute, nice to get on the board. Hopefully, I can get on a roll here and keep getting pucks to the back of the net.”
Panarin has been on quite a roll of late. With a goal and an assist, Panarin had his 17th multi point game. The Bread Man has scored in 10 of his last 12 games and has 19 points over that stretch.
Gallant can’t be more pleased with the production that he’s been getting from his top player. “He’s a great player, he’s a star player for us. He makes those great passes. Tonight, he shoots the puck and buries it, the winning goal on the power play,” he said.
With Ottawa’s Nikita Zaitsev off for hooking, Panarin took a feed from Mika Zibanejad and beat Gustavsson with a wicked slap shot from just inside the right face off circle for his 14th goal of the season and a 2-1 lead.
The power play continues to be lethal as the Rangers have scored a goal with the man advantage in 8 of their last 10 games and have 13 PP goals in their last 12 games.
The Rangers clamped down on defense and laid it all out in the ice, as they had 9 of their 17 blocked shots in the third period.
Since returning from the break, the Rangers have played three consecutive one goal games. 6 of their last 8 games overall have also been decided by one goal and it was the Rangers’ 23rd one goal decision in 50 games (32-13-5) this season.
Zibanejad feels the Rangers are very comfortable playing in these tightly contested games. “It’s just having the confidence of winning those type games, not stressing about it. Just rely on our structure and the way we play,” he said.
The Rangers caught an Ottawa team that was playing their ninth game in the last 14 days, but they didn’t appear to be fatigued with the way they played. “I thought it was good goaltending at both ends,” Gallant said. “Solid defensive game for both teams.”
It’s a good bet that Shesterkin will score a goal sooner or later. He had his chance when the Senators pulled Gustavsson late in the third period.
Shesterkin let it fly and as the puck made its way down the ice, it appeared that it was really going to go in.
“The sound was getting louder and louder as the puck got closer to the crease, but it’s just a matter of time, he’s gonna stick with it. Maybe we can get a couple of drills in practice working on it,” Strome said.
The Rangers are 14-2-1 vs. Atlantic Division opponents and are 20-5-1 against the Eastern Conference overall.