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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.