It wasn’t only Henrik Lundqvist who was taken for granted during the King’s reign with the Rangers. Backup goaltending was generally regarded as an automatic as well. And for good reason.
During the 11 seasons, 2006-07 through 2016-17, in which Lundqvist was the unambiguous No. 1 from start to finish, he started 682 games. The Rangers went 374-233-67 for a .599 winning percentage while the Swede posted an overall .920 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average.
In the meantime, nine backup goaltenders combined to start 186 contests, in which the Rangers went 103-63-20 for a winning percentage of .607 with an overall .907 save percentage and 2.38 GAA. The nine were Cam Talbot (53 starts), Antti Raanta (44), Marty Biron (41), Steve Valiquette (28), Kevin Weekes (12), Chad Johnson (4), Mackenzie Skapski (2), Alex Auld (1) and Magnus Hellberg (1).
The Rangers have not gotten that type of support this season. They have won just eight of the 19 games (8-8-3) started by understudy goaltenders Alexandar Georgiev and Keith Kinkaid, who have combined for a .895 save percentage and 2.79 GAA.
Georgiev, who has not played in three weeks, will get his shot to turn it around at the Islanders on Friday following the Rangers’ 5-2 Garden loss to the Penguins on Thursday, in which Igor Shesterkin was both jostled and left to fend for himself too often. The Blueshirts’ No. 1 goaltender entered with a .924 save percentage and 2.36 GAA.
“Shesty has played a lot of good hockey for us,” coach David Quinn said after the match. “Goaltending was the least of our issues.”
Georgiev has not played since March 19, when he allowed two late goals off juicy rebounds in a 2-1 loss at Washington. The game before that, Georgiev had pitched a shutout. Regardless, he has been sitting while Shesterkin has run with it and Kinkaid got a pair of starts.
Kinkaid struggled in three of his last four starts. Hence, the backup job would appear to belong to Georgiev, but the longer he goes without playing, the more challenging the assignment will be for him.
The 25-year-old Bulgarian has never gone this long without an appearance, let alone a start, since arriving in North America in 2017-18. He had three longer NHL gaps during 2018-19, but each time was assigned to AHL Hartford, where he was able to get a stretch of starts. He went 17 days between games last season bridging the bye week.
Following the morning skate, Quinn had not committed to a starter for Friday. When he was asked if it was a priority to get Georgiev into a game, the coach neatly said: “It’s one of the priorities, yeah, we’d like to do that.”
Adam Fox extended his consecutive-games assist streak to 12 with his helper on Kevin Rooney’s goal at 13:48 of the third period. Fox, who has 22 points (3-19) over that span, is tied with Victor Hedman for the NHL scoring lead among defensemen, with 37 points.
Brett Howden was reinserted into the lineup at the expense of Phillip Di Giuseppe, a healthy scratch. It was the first action for Howden since March 20. The 23-year-old missed seven games on the COVID protocol list before sitting out Tuesday as a healthy scratch. Julien Gauthier was scratched for the second consecutive game.
The Rangers will play at the Coliseum on Friday and Sunday before opening a four-game set against the Devils, in which the first and last will be played in Newark with the middle two at the Garden.