Saturday, May 28, 2022

NHL Star Power Index: Igor Shesterkin taking the league by storm; David Pastrnak continues torrid month

Welcome to the NHL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are controlling substantial buzz around the league. When a player is included on this list it may not be a good thing — it means that they are capturing a large amount of the hockey world’s attention.

These players are in no particular order when it comes to the amount of buzz that they’re creating. We’ll revisit the Star Power Index every week throughout the regular season.

As we near the All-Star break, the New York Rangers find themselves tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division with the third-most points in the Eastern Conference. One of the biggest reasons for that has been the play of goaltender Igor Shesterkin.

Entering Friday, Shesterkin leads the NHL with a .937 save percentage and ranks second with a 2.07 goals-against-average. In 26 games, the 26-year-old netminder boasts a 20-4-2 record and has three shutouts to his name. 

In six games this month, Shesterkin has allowed a grand total of 10 goals. In addition, he had back-to-back shutouts against the San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this month.

In Monday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings, Shesterkin did yield a pair of goals in the second period. However, he turned in a very strong game in which he stopped 34 of the 36 shots that he faced on the night.

Shesterkin came up huge in the shootout as he stopped the likes of Adrian Kempe, Viktor Arvidsson, Alex Iafallo and Arthur Kaliyev in what turned into a six-round shootout. Shesterkin’s save on Kaliyev to clinch the win may have been the most impressive as he showed tremendous poise in net against a player that has a very quick shot.

For so many years, the Rangers had a constant in net in the form of five-time All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. After serving as Lundqvist’s backup during the 2019-20 season, Shesterkin has been tabbed as “the guy” over the past two seasons and he hasn’t disappointed.

Midway through the 2021-22 season, Shesterkin is certainly in the Vezina Trophy conversation and there’s no telling what the ceiling is on this talented netminder.

Throughout the majority of the season so far, it’s been the Brad Marchand show when it comes to the Boston Bruins. That’s because David Pastrnak had some struggles, including recording just two points (a pair of assists) in seven games during December. 

Entering Friday, Marchand leads the Bruins in points (46), goals (21) and assists (25) and, despite those numbers, he was snubbed from being selected to next month’s NHL All-Star Game. However, Pastrnak is really starting to turn it on.

In January, Pastrnak has looked like the traditional playmaker that we’ve all come to expect. In 14 games, the Bruins winger has recorded 12 goals and five assists. Throughout that stretch, Pastrnak has registered five multi-point games, including recording a goal and an assist in a 5-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week.

In addition, “Pasta,” as many call him around the league, has notched points in all but four of those January contests. He’s looked more aggressive and appears to be putting the puck in the net any chance he gets like we’ve seen in the past.

Pastrnak is currently on pace to finish the regular season with 78 points (41 goals and 37 assists). While that’s not going to record any new career-highs, having the lethal Pastrnak that hockey fans have grown accustomed to seeing is going to be huge for the Bruins down the stretch.

Despite getting off to a slower start this season, Crosby is really beginning to hit his stride as of late. Over his past six games, Crosby has registered at least one point in four of those contests and has scored goals in four of them. 

Crosby had an incredible last week with the highlight being a four-point performance in a Penguins‘ 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. The Penguins center scored three goals and recorded an assist, including one of those goals coming on the power play.

While Crosby’s goal-scoring prowess is always something to behold, his playmaking ability can never be understated. 

In the opening minute of Friday’s contest, Crosby was able to corral the puck, slid the puck to a wide-open Bryan Demoulin, and Demoulin buried a shot past Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo to give the Penguins an early 1-0 lead.

The Penguins did end up needing Crosby’s goal-scoring ability against the Blue Jackets, who even took a 2-1 late in the opening period.

When it comes to Crosby, there is no angle or area that he’s unable to score from. In the final minute of the first period, Bryan Rust put the puck near the net in Crosby’s vicinity, but Crosby appeared to be defended fairly well by Blue Jackets defenseman Jake Bean. However, Crosby was still able to shovel the puck past Bean’s skate and Korpisalo from the side of net.

As I mentioned last week, the return of Evgeni Malkin is monumental for the Penguins. Malkin’s presence on the team’s top power-play unit alongside Crosby, which was evident against Columbus when Malkin produced an assist on Crosby’s third goal.

With Crosby playing at an elite level once again, the Penguins have won six of their past seven games and really look like one of the most dangerous teams around the NHL.

It seems crazy to think that Lightning star Steven Stamkos is in his 14th professional season. However, in recent years, Stamkos has dealt with his fair share of injuries that have derailed a few of his seasons.

In March 2020, Stamkos was forced to have core muscle surgery and missed the remainder of the regular season. However, Stamkos did return for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals and even scored on his first shot of that contest. Stamkos was also limited to just 17 games during the 2016-17 season after he tore the meniscus in his right knee.

Finally, it appears that Stamkos’ injury-prone days may be a thing of the past.

In 43 games throughout the 2021-22 season, Stamkos leads the Lightning in points (51) and goals (20) while also recording a team-leading eight power-play goals. Stamkos is coming off a three-point week in which he put together a two-point performance against San Jose Sharks last Saturday.

The Lightning have won back-to-back Stanley Cups despite not having the full services of Stamkos throughout the bulk of that tremendous run. Now Tampa Bay is thriving once again as they currently trail only the Florida Panthers for the most points in the entire league.

If Stamkos can continue to stay healthy and produce at a high level, a third consecutive Stanley Cup may not be out of the question for the Lightning.

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