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Cullen: Notes on Fasth, Bourque, Kessel, Karlsson and more

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Scott Cullen
2/8/2013 3:51:18 PM
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Scott Cullen weighs in on Anaheim's new 30-year-old goalie, a new and improved Montreal winger rebounds from last season, Kessel finally scores for the Maple Leafs, Buffalo's strong left wing production, Karlsson's gunning and more.

FASTH-ER THE PEOPLE
Ducks G Viktor Fasth, a 30-year-old rookie (therefore too old for Calder Trophy status), has opened his NHL career by winning four starts and allowing four goals on 105 shots (.962 SV%), making him a hot commodity for fantasy owners looking for a saviour between the pipes.

Can Fasth continue to play at such a high level? Well, he's most definitely not going to keep stopping 96% of the shots he faces, and not likely to face only 26.25 shots per game either, but there is reason to be optimistic about the late-bloomer.

Fasth didn't start playing in the Swedish Elite League until 2010-2011, when he was 28. Over the course of the next two seasons, he posted a 2.18 goals against average and .928 save percentage for a middle-of-the-pack AIK team.

Whether Fasth will continue to get opportunities to play will also depend on the play of Jonas Hiller. So far, Hiller's 3.54 goals against average and .871 save percentage aren't doing much to impress, but if Hiller strings together a few quality starts, he will earn more trust from the coaching staff.

It's not as though Hiller is the only No. 1 goaltender going through tough times. Jimmy Howard, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ondrej Pavelec, Brian Elliott, Mike Smith, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby have all played more than five games yet posted a goals against average over 3.00 and a save percentage under .900 early in this season.

NEW AND IMPROVED BOURQUE
Part of the reason for the Montreal Canadiens' early-season surge has been the improved play of LW Rene Bourque. After he was acquired from Calgary last season, Bourque scored eight points and was minus-16 in 38 games, a veritable disaster tied to a long-term contract.

After registering a pair of assists and seven shots on goal against Buffalo Thursday, Bourque has seven points and 31 shots on goal in 10 games this season and as long as he remains productive like that, he'll keep his spot alongside Tomas Plekanec; a spot that will allow Bourque, the three-time 20-goal scorer to provide the secondary scoring that Montreal needs if they are going to maintain their early success.

KESSEL SCORES
Stop the presses! Maple Leafs RW Phil Kessel scored his first goal of the season, on his 46th shot, and it turned out to be the game-winner against Winnipeg.

While Kessel is generating a lot of shots on goal (4.2 per game), the stats at Behind the Net indicate that he's not taking them from further out, averaging 35.7 feet per shot (5-on-5). His average shot distances throughout his career, working back: 29.8, 30.6, 32.2, 29.8, 33.8, 35.7.

So, while Kessel is likely to score more than once every 46 shots, it's not out of line to suggest that he does need to take those shots from better locations (ie. closer to the net). That's the hard price that goal-scorers have to pay.

Some other notable shooters firing from long distance? Shane Doan (41.0 feet), Alex Ovechkin (35.6 feet), Henrik Zetterber (35.5 feet), Patrick Sharp (35.1 feet), Evander Kane (34.9 feet), Justin Williams (34.4 feet) and Ryane Clowe (34.4 feet).

SABRE RATTLING
Sabres LW Marcus Foligno has some similarities with Bourque, in that both are big, physical wingers on teams that have a number of small or non-physical forwards.

When Foligno got his chance with Buffalo at the end of last season, he surprised with 13 points in 14 games, but that production raised expectations for this season, in which Foligno is still classified as a rookie.

He was scoreless through the first four games of the season, but has a point-per-game in the last seven and has played more than 20 minutes in each of the last three, playing a big role alongside linemates Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford.

VANEK AT THE DISCO
Staying in Bufflao, might as well note that LW Thomas Vanek scored another pair of goals against Montreal Thursday, including the game-tying goal with two seconds left in the third period, giving him 21 points in 10 games this season.

Vanek also had eight shots on goal in the game, lifting him to 42 shots in 10 games. He's one of 13 in the league averaging at least four shots on goal per game.

THE BEST DEFENCE...
And the player averaging the most shots per game so far, after firing 11 at Carolina's Cam Ward Thursday, is Senators D Erik Karlsson, who has 50 shots on goal in 11 games (4.5 per game).

He's not going to score on 10% of his shots all seasson -- he is a defenceman, after all, but just by way of comparison, when Karlsson scored 78 points in 81 games last season, he had 3.2 shots on goal per game. So far this season, Karlsson and Jets D Dustin Byfuglien are the only defencemen averaging more than 3.5 shots on goal per game.

NICE DEBUT
Red Wings G Petr Mrazek stopped 25 of 26 shots to beat St. Louis in his first NHL start. A fifth-round pick in 2010, Mrazek was playing well (2.26 GAA, .916 SV% in 25 GP) with Grand Rapids of the AHL and he could challenge for playing time if Jimmy Howard or Jonas Gustavsson don't play better, but the 20-year-old could probably use a little more seasoning before he's thrust into regular duty in Detroit.

AIN'T EASY BEING GREENE
Devils D Andy Greene broke through to earn a regular spot on the New Jersey blueline in 2009-2010 when he scored 37 points, including 15 on the power play. Over the past few seasons, Greene hasn't been used consistently in an offensive role, so his production has waned.

He's still not getting first unit PP time this year, but he's the No. 2 option on the blueline behind Marek Zidlicky, so there is some hope for production from Greene. He didn't put up any points in the first six games, but has six points in the last four games and has played more than 20 minutes in all 10 of New Jersey's games so far.

MILLER TIME
Rangers C J.T. Miller, the 15th overall pick in 2011, scored a pair of goals against the Islanders Thursday, in his second NHL game. He played on a line with LW Chris Kreider and RW Ryan Callahan while C Brian Boyle was a healthy scratch for the Blueshirts.

But, let's not get carried away with expectations for Miller's offensive production. He's 19, scored a point-per-game (62 points in 61 games) in the OHL last year and had 20 points in 37 AHL games before getting the call to Broadway.

Can he be a good player and help the Rangers at both ends of the ice? Yes, but keep his progress in perspective.

STAAL TACTICS
Rangers D Marc Staal has turned into a bit of an offensive contributor for the Rangers. After scoring five points in 46 games last season, Staal's pair of assists Thursday lifted him to six points in the first 10 games this year.

Paired with Michael Del Zotto, the Rangers' most effective puck-moving defenceman, Staal gets time on the ice with the Rangers' top forward line, so offensive opportunities are there, but right now the numbers are a function of luck (13.10 on-ice 5-on-5 SH%), so don't dramatically alter expectations for the player who had a career-high 29 points in 77 games in 2010-2011.

WATCH WILSON
Predators LW Colin Wilson, who had 84 points in 185 games coming into this season, has suddenly put up six points in the last three games. He only has 15 shots on goal in 10 games, so it's difficult to expect production to remain high, but seven points in 10 games could earn him more opportunities in Nashville.

THURSDAY's THREE-POINTERS
Patrick Kane (2 G, 1 A)
Evgeni Malkin (1 G, 2 A)
Sidney Crosby (1 G, 2 A)
Patrik Elias (1 G, 2 A)
Tyler Ennis (1 G, 2 A)
Patrick Sharp (3 A)

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Viktor Fasth (Photo: Michael Martin/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Michael Martin/Getty Images)
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