For the most part, since the early part of the 2005-06 season, Rangers fans have had to little to worry about in goal. Such was Henrik Lundqvist's impact in net, that there was little to consider. Sure, there have still been detractors in that period...after all we often have emotional, and irrational expectations on the payers, but the reality is that Lundqvist was as about as long-lived as you can expect a goaltender to be in this league.
Over the previous 2-3 seasons, it was clear that the team in front of him was poor at defending, and that his elite skills were perhaps in decline. Advanced stats still showed him as overperforming a generic replacement, but with the team still a couple of years away from competing for the Cup, it was reasonable to look to solve for the future now.
Going into this year, it looked like Igor Shesterkin would be that guy. He'd forced his way into the line-up late in the season, and delivered a pretty solid 10-2 record before the season shut down. He'd missed a handful of games after a car accident that also had involved his team mate Pavel Buchnevich, but he looked the obvious heir apparent.
When the league did resume, Shesterkin was unable to play the first two play-in games as a result of what later was disclosed as a groin injury. Groins and goalies can sometimes feel a bit like concussions and skaters. An injury that can return over time, and while not necessarily as career threatening as concussion histories, it's still a concern...especially for your starter.
In the case of that injury however, Shesterkin missed around a week, and returned for the loss that saw the team eliminated in three straight games by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Come January, and the NHL season got under way. Instead of being the hot young goaltender who carried success form the KHL and AHL into the NHL, the Rangers got a guy who struggled in first five games with consistency.
He missed saves you'd expect him to make, and along with Georgiev's inconsistent play, saw the Rangers quickly drop behind the pack. The 25 year old Russian had turned things around a bit since that inauspicious start. He still wasn't that guy you could clearly trust in net, but his performances showed a good deal of promise, and began to allay some of the fears.
Then there was that game against the Devils on March 4th. Defending a two on one, Shesterkin slid across to make a save on a shot going wide, and then laid prone on the ice, requiring the help of his team mates to get off the ice.
On immediate inspection, the injury looked severe, but after visiting with doctors it was revealed to be just a minor groin strain. As it turned out, the injury has lingered, and tonight's return will mark a three week absence from the line-up. A total of 10 games missed, or a 5-4-1 record with Shesterkin on the sidelines.
The Rangers have perhaps got more than they expected out of Keith Kinkaid, while Alexandar Georgiev got pulled in the first period twice during that span.
Tonight Shesterkin will be back in net, but it's going to take some time for everyone to be comfortable that he's not going to get hurt again. He also has to earn back the trust that he earned last year. For the Rangers, the hope is this is just a blip in a career trajectory that will see him amongst the pantheon of great Blueshirt netminders.
Whether he ends up there, remains very much an open quesiton for all of us who follow, ore are invested in the franchise.