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GAME DAY: Shesterkin Takes Show on the Road

Rookie Gets First Start as a Visitor as Rangers Open Trip vs. Jets

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at JETS, 8 p.m.
Bell MTS Place
MSG Network, 98.7 FM

GAME DAY
WINNIPEG --
Time for the Rangers to hit the road. Time for their rookie goaltender to get his first taste of it.

Igor Shesterkin will play for the first time in a hostile NHL rink on Tuesday night when the Blueshirts open up a three-game road trip in Winnipeg. After the Rangers wrapped up a Madison Square Garden homestand with Sunday's 4-1 victory over L.A. behind 42 saves from Shesterkin, Tuesday's match begins a stretch of 10 games for the Blueshirts of which eight are away from home.

The Rangers have 28 games remaining on their schedule; 17 are road games.

"It's always nicer to play at home," David Quinn said, "but I think if you're a team worth your salt, you're embracing an opportunity to go on the road and win hockey games."

Shesterkin has been worth every grain of salt over the first six starts of his NHL career, of which he has won five, including the last three in a row. In his only loss, which came on a late goal by the Blue Jackets, Shesterkin had a shutout going past the six-minute mark of the third period. On Sunday he carried another shutout bid past the midway point of the third, finishing his night with 42 saves on 43 shots.

Following the first period of his NHL debut, the Rangers have played 17 periods -- more than 340 minutes -- and trailed in a game for all of 1:41 with Shesterkin in net.

"I just think the swagger he has is so necessary for that position," Quinn said a day after his rookie's fifth victory. "He's really good and he knows he's really good, but it's not in an arrogant way. And those guys are special. So far if you look at his career, I think he's lost 17 games out of a hundred and -- whatever the number is, it's a crazy number, and he's done it at every level.

"Right now he's doing it at our level; he did it in the American Hockey League, he did it in the KHL. It's just who he is. At his age, he's just a winner."

That crazy number: Over the past four seasons, between the KHL, AHL and NHL, Shesterkin has earned the win in 101 of his 126 appearances. On Tuesday he will try to build on it against a Jets team that has won three straight of its own and is 4-0-1 in February, which comes right after a 1-7-0 stretch, including a five-game skid to finish out January.

They are 3-0-1 on home ice since the month began, and to add a little atmosphere to Shesterkin's first road NHL match, Tuesday's game will be the first in Winnipeg for Jacob Trouba not wearing a Jets jersey. The blueliner was one of nine Ranger skaters to take part in Tuesday's optional morning skate. "It's a little different, never been in this room before," Trouba said from the visitors' dressing room at Bell MTS Place. "So this is all a different experience." 

Brendan Lemieux was another -- both players were acquired by the Blueshirts in separate trades over the past year, and both have bigger things on their mind than any kind of return.

"It's a big, big stretch of games here for us, and we need to come away with some points here on this road trip," Trouba said. "We're down to the nitty gritty and we've got to start winning some games here and putting a string together."

"Yeah, that's really what I'm more concerned about than going 'home' or anything," added Lemieux. "We've got to make a push. That's all that really matters."

The Rangers have won eight of their 13 games since returning from a trip through Western Canada surrounding New Year's Eve. Shesterkin has five of the wins, a 2.43 GAA and a .933 save percentage.

The rookie's counterpart on Tuesday night has done the same for his own team lately. Connor Hellebuyck has emerged from his All-Star appearance for the Central Division with a 3-0-1 mark out of the break, and a .942 save percentage in those four. He has held opponents to two goals in each of them. "All I can hear about is how good he's playing lately," Trouba said with a laugh. "It'll be fun to see him out there and I'm glad he's doing well."

It hasn't just been Hellebuyck heating up since the break. Patrik Laine brings a three-game goal streak into Tuesday night, with a hat trick against the Senators in that middle game, and Kyle Connor -- who on Monday was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week -- has three goals and four assists during his own three-game point streak.

Connor scored twice and set up another in the Jets' latest home-ice win on Sunday, when they spotted the Chicago Blackhawks a two-goal lead before pulling away for a 5-2 win (including two empty-netters). The 23-year-old has 28 goals and 31 assists and is poised to shatter his career bests; his 59 points are tied with Mark Scheifele (23-36--59) for the team lead.

Tuesday's game will be the third of a season-long six-game homestand for the Jets, and the start of a heavy road stretch for the Rangers.

"Sometimes it can be a good thing to get out on the road," Trouba said. "I feel like we've been home for so long, sometimes it's nice to get on a road trip and just be together. Get on some planes, fly around, hang out together, and sometimes you can get something special going."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
33 Di Giuseppe -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
48 Lemieux -- 14 McKegg -- 21 Howden

76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo

31 Shesterkin
30 Lundqvist

JETS
81 Connor -- 55 Scheifele -- 29 Laine
27 Ehlers -- 26 Wheeler -- 82 Appleton
58 Harkins -- 9 Copp -- 28 Roslovic
57 Bourque -- 21 Shore -- 38 Shaw

44 Morrissey -- 4 Pionk
7 Kulikov -- 8 Niku
2 Bitetto -- 88 Beaulieu

37 Hellebuyck
30 Brossoit


NUMBERS GAME

Since Mika Zibanejad tied the score in the first period against Colorado in Igor Shesterkin' NHL debut, the Rangers have played 344 minutes and 37 seconds of hockey with their rookie goaltender in net, and trailed for a total of 1:41 of that.

Shesterkin's .933 save percentage leads all NHL rookies who have played at least three games; his 2.34 goals-against average is second.

Artemi Panarin has six points in his last three games against the Jets, and Zibanejad has eight in his last three against them, including a goal and three assists in the season opener.

The Rangers have 14 goals from 10 different scorers over the last four games.

Brendan Lemieux has scored 13 of his 19 career goals on the road, in 15 fewer games.

This is the Rangers' third road trip of three games or more. They are 2-0 in openers so far.

Patrik Laine has nine goals in his last nine games.

Ex-Ranger Neal Pionk has 21 power-play points (3-18--21) in his first season as a Jet, tied for second-most among NHL defensemen behind Torey Krug's 23.

The Rangers have not allowed a power-play goal in Winnipeg in seven years; the Jets are 0-for-their-last-18.

Nikolaj Ehlers has seven points in eight games against the Rangers. His next goal will be his 110th and move him past Evander Kane for ninth place in Jets/Thrashers history.

Prior to their comeback from a 2-0 deficit on Sunday against Chicago, the Jets had scored the opening goal in six consecutive games. 

Winnipeg is 4-7-1 against the Metropolitan Division this season. 


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brett Howden was injured last season when the Rangers made the trip to his hometown of Winnipeg, but when he faced the Jets for the first time back on Oct. 3 he scored the game-winning goal in the Rangers' 6-4 Opening Night win at the Garden. Howden has points in two of the last four games. Tuesday's will be his first NHL game in Winnipeg.

Andrew Copp has 10 goals this season; half of them have been game-winners, including all three of the goals he has scored in his last five games. Copp, a former teammate of Jacob Trouba in Winnipeg, at Michigan and with the U.S. program, had scored three game-winning goals in 293 NHL games prior to this season -- and one of those came against the Rangers last Feb. 12, when he broke a 3-3 tie with 13:39 to play.

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