Benoit Allaire, the Rangers’ longtime goaltending coach, just knows exactly what to say to Igor Shesterkin.
That is how the Russian netminder put it himself.
It’s no secret that Shesterkin has struggled to play to the impossibly high standard he set for himself during his Vezina Trophy-winning season in 2021-22. It’s also quite obvious how much of a toll it’s taken on him mentally.
With Allaire’s guidance, however, Shesterkin hasn’t had to face this year’s ups and downs alone.
“A little more talking with each other right now, more than last season,” Shesterkin told The Post of how Allaire has helped him through this season, before the Rangers netminder faced the Capitals on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. “He knows what he needs to say to a goalie. He jumps in your head and tries to figure out how he can help you.”
Shesterkin added that he’s so happy he’s been able to work with Allaire since he first joined the Rangers 12 games before the coronavirus pandemic suspended the 2019-20 season. Describing the 59-year-old coach as one of the best in the NHL, Shesterkin expressed how much he trusts Allaire and how great of an experience it’s been to learn from him.
Allaire has been a fixture on the Rangers coaching staff since he first joined the organization as an assistant and goaltending coach on July 15, 2004. Since he doesn’t speak to the media, Allaire is a bit of an enigma, though he’s always quick to offer up a smile.
“I didn’t know Benny real well, but he’s been great,” said head coach Gerard Gallant, who playfully mentioned that Allaire was on the staff before him and insinuated there wasn’t really any deliberation on that. “Obviously, the goaltenders that he’s had here in the past have had a lot of success, and that’s a lot to do with him. He does a good job and he’s an easy guy. He’s fun to work with, relaxed. Lots of laughs and giggles with him.”
Shesterkin, who saved 55 of the 59 shots he faced in the previous two games which were among his strongest performances of the season, joked that he’d like to be a goaltending coach so he doesn’t have to speak to the media, either.
He was probably only half-kidding. Talking through his struggles and shortcomings this season hasn’t been easy for Shesterkin, who said he just wants to focus on his game going forward. The playoffs are on the horizon and it’ll be imperative for Shesterkin to feel confident going into them.
“I don’t want to lie, of course, it’s in my head,” Shesterkin said of ramping up his game before the playoffs. “But I just try to focus on this day, because you never know what’s going to happen. It’s a tight schedule right now. We have to focus on our game.”
Even amid a season in which it feels as though Shesterkin isn’t on the top of his game, the 27-year-old was still tied with the Stars’ Jake Oettinger, the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck, the Avalanche’s Alexandar Georgiev and the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy for the second most wins in the NHL (29) heading into Tuesday’s contest.
His .910 save percentage may be a career low, but it’s also tied with the Devils’ Vitek Vanecek for the eighth best in the NHL.
With 15 games left before the playoffs, Shesterkin has time to continue sharpening his game. He’ll have Allaire right beside him to help him get there.
“He’s like the goalie doctor?” The Post proposed.
“Goalie guru,” Shesterkin quipped in response.