NEW YORK — Igor Shesterkin has two fans living in the New York area who know exactly what it’s like to be the No. 1 goalie for the New York Rangers, and to live with the pressure and expectations that come with such a distinguished position.
Henrik Lundqvist lives in Manhattan and is an analyst for Rangers broadcasts on MSG Network. Mike Richter lives in Connecticut, 35 miles from Madison Square Garden, and is a regular at Rangers home games.
Richter’s No. 35 hangs in the MSG rafters and he is the only goalie since 1940 to help the Rangers win the Stanley Cup. Lundqvist’s No. 30 will be there once the Rangers retire it Jan. 28. His 459 wins are most in team history. Richter is second with 301.
Shesterkin, in his third season with New York and second as their unquestioned No. 1, is being asked to follow in their footsteps whether he likes it or not.
“I hope that he doesn’t think about anything like that,” Lundqvist said. “The most important thing and the thing you worry about is your own game and how to make that as good as possible. If that’s your biggest focus you’re in a good place.”
Shesterkin has been in a good place on a lot of nights for the Rangers since he made his NHL debut Jan. 7, 2020 after being selected in the fourth round (No. 118) of the 2014 NHL Draft. The 25-year-old is 2-0-1 this season after making 40 saves in a 2-1 overtime win at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday. He went 16-14-3 with a 2.62 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and two shutouts in 35 games (31 starts) last season, following his expectation-raising performance in 2019-20, when he was 10-2-0 with a 2.52 GAA and .932 save percentage in 12 games.
But, as Richter noted, expectations are higher on Shesterkin and the Rangers this season. Anything short of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be deemed a disappointing season.
“I’m the same guy that came from Moscow that’s pursuing a dream and trying to reach the highest level,” Shesterkin said through a translator. “I’m wholly confident that we can do better this season. This season we have a great team. We can achieve anything.”
In separate interviews with NHL.com, Richter and Lundqvist each offered some advice for how Shesterkin should handle the pressure:
What is it like to follow in the path of Rangers legends the way Shesterkin is now?
Richter: “When I came here the Rangers already had an amazing history of goaltending. Gump Worsley was here. John Davidson. John Vanbiesbrouck. When I first came Eddie Giacomin was my goalie coach. These are legendary names, great people, and I think it’s helpful. Sure, it can put expectations up on him, but he has his own. He comes with that. He’s fine. He was a great player in the [Kontinental Hockey League], and he’s already shown himself to be a tremendous player here. The single thing he lacks is experience. He’s got one of the best goaltending coaches in the world in Benoit Allaire and he seems to have a great work ethic. It’s a really nice combination for him.”
Lundqvist: “Of course when I got here you see Richter and you realize the impact he had on the organization and his career. Maybe you had a moment where you thought about that, but then it’s back to yourself, what do I need to do? You can’t start to try to measure up to anybody. That’s not helpful or healthy at all. You just have to walk in and you’re your own player and I think the only one you should compare yourself with is yourself, like how good can I be? You’ve got to be in the moment, especially when the pressure is higher than maybe some other places.”
What traits does a goalie need for sustained success in New York?
Richter: “Obviously work ethic and you better be married to the game and love it because you’re going to be spending every waking moment focused on that mission. Henrik came with a set of obvious skills but also a mindset that was so vital achieving excellence. He was singularly focused about getting better, about honing his craft, about being prepared for games. It wasn’t like you ever thought he would come into a game without giving full effort and attention and focus and play. The Rangers had that as a constant. I think he’s mature enough to be able to fill that role.”
Lundqvist: “It’s important to stay in your bubble a little bit, not to get carried away. It’s important to have the right people around you. Good or bad, those people will always help you stay on the track because things will go really well, and things will go bad. Don’t let yourself overthink things or overreact to good or bad, probably mostly the good, because to stay the course you need to have your priorities straight.”
What do you see when you watch Shesterkin play?
Richter: “He reads the play very, very well. That’s a really tough thing to teach and he comes equipped with it. He certainly has a work ethic and great technique. These are the types of players you want in the organization. They come with a level of talent and sophistication to the game with the absolute determination to improve it.”
Lundqvist: “The way he trusts himself stands out. You can see it in practice, the way he uses his angles and his reads, standing up a lot. That comes with trust, knowing that you cover certain parts of the net. I think it also makes you relaxed when you play the game when you have that trust.”
What advice would you give him now knowing there are higher expectations for the Rangers?
Richter: “I had the same when I came, intense with expectations, and it’s great when it goes well. But when it doesn’t go well then maybe you’re trying too hard. As a goalie you have to have patience and it depends on the personality. Greatness comes in all forms and sizes. Marty Brodeur was so easygoing in the net. He knew how to play. He had confidence and he’d go out there and play. Hank was so intense. That was one thing he almost had to guard against. But to their credit, the organization understood what it had in him early on and had good people around him. … I think Igor has a mindset and approach that he’s kind of made for the moment. As long as he keeps working and just keeps his head down, he’ll be fine.”
Lundqvist: “My expectations didn’t change even if the team changed. I had my expectations on myself. That’s where it started. Obviously, I knew there would be a lot of outside expectations. But in the end, what mattered to me was my own expectations. For some players it’s not about making mistakes, it’s about cashing in on the big opportunities. For a goalie, it’s not about cashing in on the big opportunities, it’s about minimizing mistakes. I think back to my first couple years, yeah you know the history, you know the players that have been there before you, but in the end that’s not your concern now. Your concern is to be good tonight. That’s it.”