Make your case: Shesterkin or Vasilevskiy?

The goaltending matchup for the nationally televised game between the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN1, TVAS, SNNOW) could include two best goaltenders in the NHL today.

Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers won the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL last season and finished third in voting for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the regular season’s most valuable player. Andrei Vasilevsky of the Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of the last three seasons, winning the title in 2020 and 2021, and was named the winner of the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoffs’ most valuable player. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2019.

Last season, Shesterkin helped lead the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to Vasilevskiy and the Lightning in six games. He was 36-13-4 with a 2.07 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and six shutouts in 53 games (52 starts) during the regular season. For his career, the 26-year-old is 62-29-7 with a 2.31 GAA, .928 save percentage and eight shutouts in 100 regular season games (95 starts).

Vasilevskiy won an NHL-best 39 games (39-18-5) with a 2.49 GAA and .916 ERA in 63 regular season games (all starts) last season. For his career, he is 229-101-24 with a 2.50 GAA and a .919 ERA in 365 regular season games (355 starts).

Although Vasilevskiy has roughly three times the sample size of Shesterkin, those numbers are strikingly similar.

So it begs the question: Which of the two goalkeepers is better right now?

That’s the question writers Tracey Myers and Mike Morreale answer in this installment of State Your Case.

Myers: “The best goalkeeper in the world.” I’ve been given this quote quite often when asking about Vasilevski for stories. Hard to disagree, right? As good a goalie as Shesterkin is, he’s not at the level of Vasilevskiy, who is entering the prime of his career. The Lightning goaltender is a Vezina winner and was one of three finalists for the award for four straight seasons (2017-21). They have won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons and came close to adding a third in a row last season, losing to the Colorado Avalanche in six games. So, until proven otherwise, he’s the best.

Morreale: It took Shesterkin just three seasons, including the previous two as a starter, to enter the conversation as the best goaltender on the planet. It’s a title that’s absolutely earned considering he not only won the Vezina last season, but became just the third goaltender in the last 10 seasons to be named a finalist for the Hart Trophy (Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens won in 2014-15. Sergei Bobrovsky, then of the Columbus Blue Jackets, was third in 2016-17). As Tracey noted, Vasilevskiy remains elite, but Shesterkin was never fazed by his heavy workload in 2021-22. He allowed two goals or fewer in 32 of his 52 starts and three of his six shutouts came in April when the Rangers were trying to secure home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference’s First Round. He was the heart and soul of the Rangers and a big reason they advanced to the conference finals. The experience he gained will help in his quest to become the first goaltender to win back-to-back Vezina seasons in 15 years (Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils in 2007, 2008).

Myers: Oh, I’ll definitely give Shesterkin his due. He is outstanding and rising through the ranks. But he hasn’t reached the top of the mountain yet. It’s all about consistency, right? That goes for any hockey player, but especially for a goaltender, and Vasilevskiy epitomizes that. Since becoming the Lightning’s starter in 2016-17, he has never had a GAA higher than 2.62 or a save percentage below .916. This is unreal. Shesterkin showed his ability to carry the load last season, but Vasilevskiy has been doing this for years. He had a career-high 64 starts in 2017-18 and was close to that again last season when he started 63. Again, kudos to Shesterkin, but when he starts putting up season after season numbers like Vasilevskiy, I’ll be more convinced that his position at the top of the mountain.

Morreale: I totally agree with Tracy that consistency is vital, especially as a goaltender, and Vasilevskiy certainly has that. But Shesterkin showed just how ready he is to beat Vasilevskiy as the best goaltender in the world last season, when he led the NHL in GAA (2.07, min. 30 games) and had the highest save percentage (.935) among goaltenders for to play at least 30 games in a season since 2011-12. He’s two years younger than the 28-year-old Vasilevskiy and has played 265 fewer games (348 if you count the Stanley Cup playoffs), so he doesn’t have the wear and tear of his compatriot. Additionally, Shesterkin has the ability to handle tremendous pressure and consistently make saves in stressful situations for his team — New York’s 110-point regular season represented the third-highest total in history for the Original Six franchise. To me, last season was just the tip of the iceberg for Shesterkin — he’ll be even better this season.

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