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Tough test for Harding

By Thomas J. Harrigan, Fantasy Sports Writer

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - We're going to find out a lot about Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding Thursday night.

Harding has been the top goalie in fantasy hockey this season, going 8-2-1 with a 1.09 GAA, a .951 save percentage and two shutouts in 12 games (10 starts).

The 29-year-old career backup was expected to sit behind Niklas Backstrom again this season, but his sensational play after Backstrom went down with an injury earned him the starting job temporarily.

His performance has really come out of nowhere; he has a career 2.52 GAA in 134 games (108 starts) over seven years and played just five games in 2012-13 due to complications from multiple sclerosis.

When Backstrom suffered an injury during pre-game warmups prior to Game 1 of Minnesota's first-round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks, Harding was forced into action. He allowed 12 goals in 245 minutes (2.94 GAA) to the eventual Stanley Cup champions and Minnesota lost the series four games to one.

Back to Thursday -- Harding will take on one of the top-scoring teams in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, on the road. Washington is tied for seventh in the league with 3.13 goals per game, and it has scored 16 goals during a three-game winning streak.

Harding also has been a completely different goalie at home than on the road in his career.

He has a 30-11-2 record, a 1.98 GAA and a .928 save percentage in 53 career games at the Xcel Energy Center, compared to 20-43-7 with a 2.88 GAA and a .911 save percentage in 81 career games on the road.

Harding has won five straight games, and all of them came at home. He's 7-0-0 with a 1.05 GAA and a .952 save percentage at home this season.

Now, the Wild netminder also has a 1.16 GAA and a .950 save percentage in five games (three starts) on the road, but he hasn't played away from home since Oct. 19.

And three of his five road games came against Nashville, Buffalo and Florida, three of the worst offensive clubs in the NHL.

A strong start for Harding Thursday in D.C. will go a long way toward proving to fantasy owners that he is ready to star after years of standing in the background.

11/07 16:21:23 ET


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