Monday, September 22, 2014

Fasth Sets Bar In Pre-Season Debut

While half of the Edmonton Oilers training camp roster managed to knock off half of the Calgary Flames roster by a score of 3-1 over at Rexall Place during Sunday night NHL exhibition hockey, it was the play of goaltender Viktor Fasth at the Scotiabank Saddledome that was arguably the high point of the evening. 

Despite dropping a 1-0 decision to the Flames in what was the second half of simultaneous split squad games against the provincial rivals, the thirty-two year old puckstopper looked to be in mid-season form during his two periods of work. Fasth stopped nineteen of the twenty pucks fired his way to keep the Orange and Blue in it, after being badly outplayed and outshot 14-1 over the opening twenty minutes of play in Calgary. 

In the minds of some, including that of general manager Craig MacTavish, the Swedish netminder comes into to camp as second in the pecking order to Ben Scrivens, albeit in more of a 1A/1B tandem as opposed to your traditional starter and backup scenario. While the former Toronto Maple Leaf may get the nod to start the season, Fasth is the guy who appears to be best suited to deliver what this team so desperately needs…sound goaltending. 

Scrivens deserves full credit for taking advantage of the situation that presented itself after coming over from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a 2014 third round pick in mid-January but his style of game very much mirrors the rest of the Oilers roster. While the twenty-eight year old has shown the ability to occasional go out and steal points for Dallas Eakins and his coaching staff, his less than stellar rebound control and tendency to get himself out of position are major concerns. 

With Fasth there are no such issues. Like any goaltender, he will have an off night from time to time but it is his calm presence in between the pipes that sets him apart from his goaltending partner. He may not be overly flashy but his positioning gives him a chance at stopping each and every puck fired his way and last night was a perfect example. 

The former Anaheim Ducks tender simply kept pucks in front of him and was usually ready to deal with any second or third shot opportunities that might come his way. With the Oilers defence being what it is, that is something that simply cannot be overlooked. Playing in front of a chaotic netminder is difficult for the best of teams but it can be downright crippling for a group as defensively challenged as this one. 

There is no question that Edmonton will be better on the backend than they were a year ago but their challenges remain the same. Having a goalie who is almost always square to the shooter and is rarely if ever scrambling to find his crease or lunging to try and make some sort of acrobatic stop is a huge plus for what is frankly still a very inexperienced blueline. 

Fasth may not have made the same sort of impression on the fan base as Ben Scrivens during his very brief audition during the tail end of the 2013-14 campaign but if his level play in Calgary is any indication of what fans can expect from him during the upcoming season, this may turn out to be a very short battle for the No. 1 job. 

In the grand scheme of things, last night’s performance on its own doesn’t mean much of anything but the message it sent was crystal clear. Viktor Fasth has one goal in mind and that is to become the go to guy for the Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15. 

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