Igor Shesterkin was healthy enough to practice Sunday, but David Quinn said following the team’s workout that he had not yet anointed a starting goaltender for Monday afternoon’s Game 2 against Carolina.
“I haven’t really decided,” the coach said. “[I’m] not sure yet whether Igor will be available.”
The question is this: Is an impaired Shesterkin, even if slightly diminished, a better choice than a fully healthy Henrik Lundqvist, whose impressive 34-save performance in Saturday’s opening 3-2 defeat gave the Rangers more of a chance to win than they probably deserved?
The other matter that might come under consideration is the schedule, with Game 3 following on Tuesday, thus creating a back-to-back situation. Lundqvist started back-to-back twice during the first half of this season while Shesterkin did so once in January. Monday’s game starts at noon and Tuesday’s game is scheduled for 8 p.m. So the task might be somewhat less arduous but probably not ideal for a goaltender who is not completely healthy.
Shesterkin was the choice entering the tournament. His superior puck-handling skills represent an important asset in this matchup that Lundqvist just cannot match. Had the Rangers won behind Lundqvist, surely he would have kept the net. But they did not. Hence, a decision. But if Shesterkin is compromised, it’s probably not that difficult a decision, after all.
Quinn must also decide on the replacement for Jesper Fast, who is unavailable after suffering some sort of upper-body injury on Brady Skjei’s hellacious open-ice hit 32 seconds into the match.
The chalk would be 27-year-old Steven Fogarty, who would slide into a fourth-line role while Julien Gauthier moves up to the third unit and Kaapo Kakko onto the second line in place of Fast, as the Finn did on Saturday. Fogarty is a meat-and-potatoes guy who has played 18 games with the Rangers over three seasons without a point.
But Quinn revealed that 20-year-old Vitali Kravtsov also practiced with the varsity. The presence of Brendan Lemieux, suspended through Game 2, meant that the Rangers did not necessarily need another forward to fill out their complement even though Mika Zibanejad did not skate, but the coach took the opportunity to get another look at Kravtsov, whose work through summer camp improved noticeably from beginning to end.
It was almost certainly nothing more than that, and Fogarty almost certainly will play Game 2, with Lemieux jumping in for Game 3 if, as expected, Fast remains sidelined.
Tony DeAngelo, who was a game-time decision for Saturday, did not participate in practice though Quinn said he expects No. 77 to be in the lineup for Game 2. Libor Hajek would be the if-necessary replacement for DeAngelo, who struggled through 19:23 that included 7:02 on the impotent power play that failed on seven opportunities. If DeAngelo plays but is somewhat compromised, Adam Fox could move up to the first power-play unit.
Brendan Smith (15:58) and Jacob Trouba, who combined to form a substantial pair on defense, each said there was essentially no difference in how they felt after this Game 1 than after previous playoff Games 1, despite the lengthy pause.
“I’d say pretty much as you would expect coming out of Game 1 of the playoffs,” said Trouba, one of the team’s best through 19:45 of ice on Saturday. “Obviously it’s unique circumstances here with how everybody feels and we were in a different spot coming into it, but I’d say it feels pretty similar to starting any other playoffs.”
Smith, who played 15:58 and has meshed with Trouba better than any other of his partners throughout the season since moving back to the blue line following Skjei’s deadline trade to Carolina, concurred.
“I totally agree,” said No. 42.
With neither Zibanejad nor DeAngelo on the ice, the Rangers did run through power-play drills. Quinn said they wouldn’t have regardless, even in coming off Game 1’s feeble 0-for-7 showing.
“We didn’t need to work on our power play. Our power play was about one thing and one thing, only — how slow it was.
“Give Carolina credit. They kill with an aggressiveness and a pace, but I thought our power play was a microcosm of what was going on all over the rink. We just didn’t skate and there just wasn’t a lot of urgency to our power play.
“It isn’t about, ‘Going here and doing this and doing that.’ It’s about playing hockey on your power play.”