The goaltending drama with the New York Rangers is going to be fascinating to watch. Both for its ultimate result and for the what-ifs and what-might-bes it brings about when you ponder the Buffalo Sabres.
The Rangers brought up top prospect Igor Shesterkin and he made his NHL debut in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Colorado, then posted a 6-3 win Thursday over New Jersey. Shesterkin, 24, rang up a .926 save percentage over the two games after giving up goals on two of the first three shots he faced against the Avalanche. He then stopped 73 of the next 78.
Longtime No. 1 man Henrik Lundqvist has been the backup in both games and current backup Alexandar Georgiev (3.17/.909) has been the healthy scratch. Saturday in St. Louis, Lundqvist was scheduled to get the start with Georgiev backing up and Shesterkin sitting in the press box.
“It’s an unusual situation right now,” said Lundqvist, who is 5-5-2 in his last 12 games but has started just one of the previous six. “But you can only control so much. You don’t want to put too much thinking into this. When you get the opportunity to play, you want to do your best. It’s quite a challenge.”
The Rangers entered the weekend 28th in the league in goals-against average (3.28) and looking for a spark from their back end. Shesterkin certainly represents that.
Lundqivst has a no-traade clause and has repeatedly said he wants to stay in New York. Shesterkin, a fourth-round choice in 2014, played three monster years in the KHL and was so good this year in Hartford (15-4-3, 1.93/.932) that he forced the Rangers' hand. Georgiev could become a chip at the trade deadline (Memo to Toronto).
So how does this all equate to the Sabres? No matter the result Saturday, you wonder how much the struggles of Carter Hutton have had the Sabres pondering a three-goalie setup for a spell, with either AHL All-Star Jonas Johansson or veteran Andrew Hammond joining Hutton and Linus Ullmark.
It doesn't seem like a trip through waivers to Rochester would be in the cards for Hutton. He entered Saturday 0-6-4 in his previous 10 games, with no wins since October and just two starts in the last 16 games. Wouldn't the Sabres have already done that by now?
And just allow yourself to daydream a little. Imagine if top prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had been healthy and not needed his double hip surgery in the spring. What if the 20-year-old Luukkonen had been tearing up the AHL like Shesterkin or the way Philadelphia's Carter Hart did last year?
You could have certainly seen a scenario where the Sabres would have reached out to UPL to try to kick-start their team. Instead, they've had to take the very slow approach with him and it's the right call for a player coming off such a serious injury.
Luukkonen is 12-5-3, 2.12/.917 in Cincinnati and it's probably time to get him to Rochester but there's quite a jam in the Sabres' organizational chain. Three goalies up top is never a great solution. My sense is that the Rangers are going to quickly find out.
No hometown discounts from Lehner
Speaking of goaltending, a situation everyone in the league is watching approaching the trade deadline is in Chicago. The Blackhawks essentially have two No. 1s in Corey Crawford and old friend Robin Lehner and both are pending unrestricted free agents. Crawford, 35, has two Stanley Cups on his resume and is making $6 million this year while Lehner is only 28 and making $5 million.
For his part, Lehner said on Friday his two seasons with the New York Islanders and the Blackhawks shows he should get paid. Lehner, remember, was coming off his fine season in Long Island but the Islanders chose to pay Semyon Varlamov coming off his first year of alcohol sobriety.
"It's a different summer than last summer," Lehner told Chicago reporters. "Me personally, another year under my belt in my new journey. The market, it's quite a lot. Lots of teams that need goalies and there's not that many goalies that are available this season.
"We'll see what happens. All I know is that I really like it here. I've learned enough that this is a business and no matter how good things are going, sometimes it's not up to you and it's not under your control. I know where I stand and I really like this team and I still really believe in this team and the pieces this team has. I'd like to be part of the turnaround.
"I've taken discounts my whole life. I'm not a guy to want to be overpaid either. I want to gain some respect that I think I deserve and we'll see if that happens or not."
Sullivan keeping Pens afloat
Mike Sullivan has two Stanley Cups on his resume with the Penguins but this has to rate as his best coaching job yet. Through all of his team's injuries, it's just stunning to see them enter Saturday 27-12-5 and second in the Metropolitan Division. You want to talk about a winning culture, Pittsburgh is the first place you should look.
It's now 27 games without Sidney Crosby, 25 without Nick Bjugstad, 17 without Brian Dumoulin, 10 without Justin Schultz and five without Jake Guentzel, whose severe shoulder injury almost certainly is going to cost him the rest of the regular season. And Patric Hornqvist (18 games), Evgeni Malkin (14) and Kris Letang (9) are all back from their injuries. Amazing.
Blues' Berube lauds Eichel
In both meetings with the Sabres this year, the St. Louis Blues were guilty of giving Jack Eichel far too much ice to work with and the Buffalo captain scored goals without anyone laying a glove on him down low.
The Blues, of course, aren't alone in getting burned by Eichel this year.
Said coach Craig Berube on Eichel after Thursday's 5-1 St. Louis win: "He’s one of the best in the league for sure. He’s hard to handle. He’s as every bit as hard to handle as (Nathan) MacKinnon and (Connor) McDavid I think. That’s my opinion. He’s a great player."
A year later for Binnington
The Blues' win Tuesday night over San Jose marked exactly one year to the callup of Jordan Binnington from San Antonio for a game in Philadelphia that ended Jake Allen's run of 14 starts in a row.
Binnington beat the Flyers the night after the players heard "Gloria" in a Philadelphia bar and the Stanley Cup run was on.
Binnington went a remarkable 43-11-5 in the 2019 calendar year with a 2.10 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and six shutouts. He led the league in wins, was second in GAA and sixth in save percentage. And all that, remember, was just for the regular season.
"It went by pretty fast, a lot accomplished," Binnington said. "I think we're in a good spot, so that's important. A year ago today, I was listening to Rocky Balboa on the way to the rink with the anthem."
The one-game suspension doesn't seem to be enough of a deterrent to get some players to not skip the All-Star Game and you can expect the league to try to up the ante on the truants. Players will be told this is an important league venture they're expected to attend. Alex Ovechkin and Marc-Andre Fleury have already begged off and taken the suspension.
And there shouldn't be the kind of negative chatter from the likes of Detroit's Dylan Larkin -- who has accomplished little of note in his career to date. The 23-year-old said, "Please don't vote. I like the days off more" when asked about having a spot in the Last Man In vote.
Around the boards
* It's hard to remember but the Red Wings started the season 3-1. Losing streaks of seven, 10 and six games -- all in regulation -- put that opening deep in the rear-view mirror but the Wings are finally looking a little better. They're 3-2 in the last five and will host the Sabres Sunday looking for just their second three-game winning streak of the season.
* Dumb Scheduling Dept: The Rangers and Islanders haven't played this season. Then they meet three times in nine days starting Monday in Madison Square Garden, once again on Feb. 25 and not a single time in March or April.
* The Blackhawks promoted Former Canisius College star Dylan McLaughlin from Indianapolis of the ECHL to Rockford for the second time this season and he scored his first two career AHL goals last week. The Lancaster native, who had 19 goals and 40 points for the Griffs last year as a senior, was 13-9-22 this year in 18 games for Indy. He's at 2-1-3 thus far in Rockford in 10 games.
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres/ Canisius College hockey/ Chicago Blackhawks/ Dylan McLaughlin/ Igor Shesterkin/ New York Rangers/ NHL All-Star Game/ Robin Lehner/ Toronto Maple Leafs/ Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen