Josh Harding puts himself on potential starter radar

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After losing his 2010-11 season to an unfortunate injury, Josh Harding is enjoying one of the best spans of his career. The quality backup is on a four-game winning streak in which he’s allowed just three goals, including two wins against the Detroit Red Wings and one against the Vancouver Canucks.

In other words, Harding is nailing what is essentially a high-profile audition for the summer of 2012, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He’s been a well-respected backup for quite some time, but his fantastic start to the 2011-12 season should add him to a crowded field of backups who could be starters in the future.

Here’s a quick list of young goalies who might not be backups for very long:

Not in a contract year:

Sergei Bobrovsky
Michal Neuvirth
Jonathan Bernier

Contract year (restricted):

Tuukka Rask
Anders Lindback
Devan Dubnyk
Cory Schneider
Ondrej Pavelec (note: Pavelec is a starter, but if he has a bad season, many teams could look at him as a backup or a 1a/1b type)

Contract year (unrestricted):

Dan Ellis
Harding

Assessing Harding’s potential competition

It would be shocking to see Bobrovsky or Neuvirth get traded and The Kings would be wrong to trust Bernier at this point. Rask and Schneider are likely the most intriguing RFAs as far as offer sheets/etc. are concerned while Pavelec is an intriguing wild card.

A lot of teams won’t want to deal with the headaches of offer sheets, sign-and-trades and other RFA-related hassles, though, so Harding could very well assert himself as a prime candidate for a job opening – whether it be in Columbus, Tampa Bay or any number of other places. As far as UFAs go, it’s basically Harding vs. career backups such as Chris Mason.

Harding still has a long way to go to earn a shot at a top job

Naturally, there’s still a long way to go and five impressive games played won’t be enough to sway most (if not all) GMs. At the same time, it’s heartening that Harding is making such a showcase for his value after the devastating injury that derailed his 2010-11 season.

The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

Highlight of the night:

Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

MISC:

Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

-The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

-Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

Factoid of the night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Canadiens 1

Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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