The smile is hidden underneath and the sense of humor is there too. But even in such moments Igor Shesterkin radiates the greatest possible Russian stoicism.
"I feel great," said Shesterkin briefly in English after scoring 27 saves on the way to his fourth win in five career starts, making Rangers a 5-3 win over the offensive dynamic Maple Leafs on Wednesday night in the Garden held back. "Hockey is fun."
Shesterkin was there almost every time the Rangers (26-22-4) went into their sloppy rounds. When Chris Kreider came back from his absence in a game because of a neck ailment, the blueshirts were dynamic – if not perfect – from the web. It was a nice rebound from the rude awakening of the stars brought into the garden on Monday evening.
"Every time you lose a player like Kreids, you'll notice it," said Kreider's center, Mika Zibanejad. "And you will notice when he comes back."
So while trade speculation is whirling around Kreider, the Rangers are still dealing with three goalkeepers playing on musical chairs. One thing that is inevitably clear is that the blues shirts always win when the 24-year-old Shesterkin is online – just like his teams in the KHL won a lot and just like the wolf pack when he started Season of North American hockey in the AHL.
"This guy was a very good goalkeeper at every level – a great goalkeeper," said coach David Quinn, who supported Henrik Lundqvist in the game, and Alex Georgiev, who watched from the press box. "He is not a 20 year old student or junior hockey player. He has proven to be a great professional in Russia, he was a great professional in the American League, he has been a great professional for us so far.
"I learned what I thought I knew before he got here, and he only confirmed it."
The Maple Leafs (28-19-7) showed their weakness, with a lack of strength at the wing and a lack of depth at the rear end. But they also showed their offensive explosiveness, straight from the chance Auston Matthews had six minutes into the game, which was denied when Shesterkin went post-to-post in a flash.
It was the same at the beginning of the second period, when Shesterkin made it appear easy by moving his blocker down and down so that Zach Hyman was quickly prevented from taking what seemed an open chance from the left porch. This maintained the Rangers' 3-1 lead, which Zibanejad and Kreider finished two goals towards the end of the first period in six seconds after John Tavares and Filip Chytil took the lead in the first game of 8:50.
"Good team," said Shesterkin through an interpreter. "The most important thing is that we were able to win."
The win was not always a matter of course, as Matthews scored with a quick backhand that surprised Shesterkin with 16:54 from second to 3-2. But then Pavel Buchnevich scored his fourth goal in the last five games when he poorly struck substitute goalkeeper Michael Hutchinson on a low shot from the slot at 5:30 pm to make it 4-2.
"We scored the necessary goals," said Zibanejad, who scored seven points with Kreider and Buchnevich. "It was a good day."
Hutchinson's game in place of injured starter Frederik Andersen – much worse than it sounds if you allow four goals in 34 shots – is a big reason why Toronto was associated with interest in Georgiev after the game on Wednesday night before it for which Kings Jack Campbell was traded.
After Greg McKegg put it in the empty net, it was clear that one reason that Georgiev might become unnecessary is because Shesterkin has proven ready for the stage to be up to the hype across the Atlantic and to be ready Maybe to be the heir to Lundqvist that so many had predicted for years.
"It is always good to have a great goalkeeper team and we managed to have a great goalkeeper team in good time," said Quinn. "It was a great win for us."
Another victory for Shesterkin.
You can find more information about the Rangers in the latest episode of the podcast "Up In The Blue Seats":