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What to expect..when you’re expecting Shesterkin

The difference in the series so far has been the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers - Game Two Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In Game 2, the Pittsburgh Penguins were clinging to staying in the game — but they were still hanging in there.

Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby were leading the way, each scoring a goal in the first two periods. The Pens trailed 3-2 in the third period, but were one shot away from possibly forcing a second overtime contest.

Unfortunately for them, Igor Shesterkin wasn’t interested in working overtime on Thursday night. Pittsburgh threw 41 shots on goal in the course of the game — including a huge push early in the third period with key chances from Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — but the Rangers’ all-world goalie held firm.

It’s led to a familiar result, both for the Penguins in the playoffs and Shesterkin in the regular season: expected goals were far less than actual goals.

Aside from the injuries that have mounted up over two games: Ryan Lindgren and Barclay Goodrow for the Rangers, Brian Dumoulin, Rickard Rakell and Casey DeSmith for the Pens, one of the biggest takeaways of the first two games of the Pittsburgh/New York series has been what the Pens have been able to generate offensively.

It has been a wide open series, with Pittsburgh generating 10.7 expected goals at 5v5. With the long overtime game, that is the most in the NHL playoffs so far. New York ranks second wit ha total of 5.75 xGF compiled on DeSmith and Louis Domingue.

The difference is “expected goals” versus “actual red lights going off and the score increasing”, which is an area where having the best goalie in the league has dramatically helped the Rangers.

Pittsburgh has only scored five goals at 5v5 (tacking on one more on a 5v3 power play). NYR has scored five 5v5 goals in their own right.

Another key point is just how the goals have been scored — all of Pittsburgh’s goals this series have been on high danger chances in areas and situations close to the net. Only two of the five NYR 5v5 goals have been high danger, with a bit more luck or flukes along the way (see: Artemi Panarin’s centering effort deflecting off Mike Matheson’s skates and into the net last night to break the game open).

In other words, when Pittsburgh has scored a goal, they have definitely earned it. It’s been a great chance and near the net, nothing easier or from the perimeter is likely to slip in.

Shesterkin bailing the Rangers out and keeping them level, despite being heavily out-chanced was acknowledged by coach Gerard Gallant after the game.

“He made three or four real good saves in the third (period) for sure, early on,” Gallant said after Game 2. “So that was huge for us because that was probably the worst four or five minutes we had in the whole game. That was big,”

As the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4, the Pens are still seeking some diversified production. While the team has been almost completely a one line team in terms of 5v5 scoring (Evgeni Malkin’s triple overtime goal is the only one the Guentzel, Crosby and Bryan Rust line), they are not the only line generating scoring chances.

Danton Heinen hit the post in Game 1, Drew O’Connor rang a shot off the cross-bar in Game 2. The top line damage has been almost even bigger, with Rust hitting a post in one of the overtime sessions in Game 1, and Guentzel pinging the cross-bar as well.

In the graphic above, Kapanen’s name is all over the place and he has 12 shots in the two games so far. Malkin has nine shots, and was robbed in close during the third period in what could have been a goal that changed everything. Jeff Carter and Evan Rodrigues haven’t hit the back of the net, but it hasn’t been for a lack of attempting to shoot.

“Obviously, when you get scoring throughout your lineup, it helps your cause, for sure,” Mike Sullivan said. “It helps you win games, but I think these guys are trying to play the game the right way. They’re competing hard out there. They’re trying to get pucks to the net. They’ve had some pretty good looks.”

Others will have to join Crosby and Guentzel on the scoreboard, but that won’t be easy against Shesterkin. The Rangers goalie has not been giving up much lightly, but the Pens have been able to score some goals on him.

Even though the Pens probably can’t “expect” the typical amount of goals to pile up against such a quality goalie, they still have been able to score enough to stay in games late, even with their injury and goalie situation of their own. After not generating a ton of scoring chances against NYR in the regular season, the first two games have shown that Pittsburgh can get some quality looks against the Rangers...

...Now their challenge will be getting the puck past the goalie more in the games ahead.