In the first three starts of his NHL life, all three of which he’s won, Viktor Fasth has hardly looked like a rookie. But maybe that’s because he’s really not.
By NHL standards, sure, he’s a first-year player. But the 30-year-old Fasth is no stranger to the rigors of the pro game. The native of Sweden– whose full name is actually Erik Sixten Viktor Fasth – was awarded the Swedish Elite League’s Honken Trophy (given to the Goaltender of the Year) for the second time in 2011-12. He’s the first goaltender since Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist (2002-05) to win the award in two straight seasons. And he did it last season on the strength of a gaudy 1.68 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.
When the Ducks were able to sign Fasth back in May of last year, Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray called him “a very sought-after free agent, and we won on that one.”
Fasth has responded with similar numbers he posted in Sweden: 1.30 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in wins over Nashville, Minnesota and, last Monday night, the Sharks. It was in that game where Fasth made a number of big stops down the stretch with the Sharks unsuccessfully trying to get even in a 2-1 Ducks win.
“He’s played amazing in every game,” said Ducks defenseman Sheldon Souray. “He certainly doesn’t look like a rookie. He’s calm and he’s cool, he’s talking to us back there and helping us out. It just makes the game easier. He makes a big save and it gives the team confidence. He’s definitely done his job and beyond.”
Fasth has been a welcome respite for the Ducks, who leaned heavily last season on goalie Jonas Hiller, who played 73 out of 82 games last season, including a team-record 32 straight. This season, Hiller has started five of Anaheim’s first eight games (posting a 3-1-1 record).
“I enjoy playing every game,” Fasth said after the San Jose win. “This is my third start and I’m feeling better and better, getting into the way of playing over here. Every day that goes by, it feels better.”
Fasth did require some early-season adjustment to NHL game’s speed and slightly different rink size when compared to the Swedish leagues. He was sent to Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk in mid-January, just before the NHL season got started, and responded with a 1.96 GAA and .914 SV% in three appearances.
He won his first NHL start on January 26 with some flair, stopping all three Nashville shootout attempts, including the final one in which he deflected a David Legwand attempt with the glove before dramatically snatching it out of the air.
Against the Sharks, one of Fasth’s biggest plays was probably not credited as an official save, as he thwarted a Patrick Marleau breakaway by lunging out and poke-checking the puck away midway through the third period with the Ducks clinging to a slim lead.
"He's doing a good job," Boudreau said of Fasth. "He's doing what he's supposed to do, which is make coaches make tough decisions. [Hiller] is the guy that we've relied on. He played 73 games last year. But it's a real pleasant surprise what Viktor's doing."
That surprising early play will be vital to a Ducks team that faces a season-long road trip of six days in 11 nights, including two back-to-back contests. The onus is on Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau to decide which of his two goalies to start on a given night.
“Sometimes you can overthink it. Sometimes it’s statistical on how one goalie has done against a team in the past,” Boudreau says. “There are a lot of little things, and you come up with a decision. It’s an interesting dynamic, but when you have two good goalies, you can afford to do that.”
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