Igor Shesterkin has some extra stretching on his to-do list for next summer.
In the meantime, the Rangers goalie has his sights set on getting back in the net Wednesday for his first game in nearly four weeks.
Shesterkin admitted Monday that he thought “f–ked again,” when he suffered a suspected groin injury on Dec. 3 against the Sharks, which he said was “probably the same” as the injury he sustained last March. The 25-year-old (who turns 26 on Thursday) thought he had done enough stretching last summer to avoid a repeat injury this season but instead was forced to miss the Rangers’ past eight games because of it.
“The medical staff did all they can,” Shesterkin said Monday after practice. “I just want to say thanks because it was a hard time and they helped me out.”
The NHL’s holiday break and a slew of COVID-19-related postponements has forced Shesterkin to wait a little longer to get back in game action after being activated off injured reserve on Dec. 18.
But Wednesday against the Panthers in Florida, the Rangers are finally set to get back their No. 1 goalie, whose strong play had been one of the main reasons for their hot start to the season.
“Everything looks good,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He seems to be moving fine. [Goaltending coach Benoit Allaire is] happy with today and [Sunday]. There’s no complaint about any injury, so he seems to be fine.”
Shesterkin had started 17 of the Rangers’ first 22 games of the season before going down with the injury that looked worrisome at the time. He does not believe the injury stemmed from playing too much.
“No. I think just I need to stretch more maybe because I’m not young right now,” Shesterkin said.
The increased stretching was a focus last summer, but Shesterkin knows something more is needed to avoid further injuries of the same kind.
“I will work on this,” Shesterkin said. “I don’t know how [to say it in] English, but usually in Russia, we [say], if you’ve got something, it means it should happen and you need to be stronger.”
Before going down against the Sharks, Shesterkin had registered a 2.05 goals against average and a .937 save percentage, the latter leading the NHL. He had stolen the Rangers some wins during their torrid start — they improved to 15-4-3 in the game Shesterkin was injured — though they were able to hold down the fort in his absence.
In the eight games without Shesterkin, the Rangers went 4-3-1 as Alexandar Georgiev largely handled starting duties.
“It was a hard time [being out] because the same problem is [my] leg,” Shesterkin said. “But I’m so happy that we got good games and lots of points. We’re still top three in our [division] right now.”
Shesterkin’s return looms especially large after Georgiev was placed in COVID-19 protocols on Sunday. Keith Kinkaid, who was recalled from AHL Hartford on Monday, will back up Shesterkin until Georgiev is cleared.
Last season, Shesterkin missed three weeks with the similar injury before coming back to finish the season playing a regular schedule. He said he had not spoken to Allaire about how much he will play moving forward, but was just looking forward to getting the first game back under his belt.
“Every time after a long pause, the next game, of course you feel a little nervous,” Shesterkin said. “But hopefully after a few shots, all nerves go out.”