Rhythm Killers

Justin Goldman




One of the biggest obstacles in a backup goalie's career is playing consistently in very limited chances. For Josh Harding, this is the one thing that has plagued both he and his fantasy owners for years. He has only played in 60 games in just over four seasons (started only 45), due in large part to the strong play of Niklas Backstrom. As a result of Harding's sporadic play, his fantasy value remains virtually non-existent until he's traded or Backstrom gets injured.


Although Josh displays plenty of talent, has good big-save ability and takes advantage of a right-handed glove side, when he does play, his timing is almost always off, making him more prone to losing focus and confidence. One reason for this is because working hard in practice simply doesn’t cut it. Every goalie at every level has to play in regular-season games (that mean something) in order to truly develop into a more valuable and effective performer.


Another reason for this is because there just haven't been enough chances for him to get into a rhythm, nor have there been enough chances for him to gain any real momentum. As you will soon see through my extraction of Harding's last two seasons, he's pretty much stuck playing for a team that could be regarded as rhythm killers.


Last season, Harding played in 19 games and only started 11. His first minute of action didn't come until Oct. 29 when he stopped 19-20 shots in relief for Backstrom. His performance was rightfully rewarded with his first start, which came the following night in a 2-1 loss to Montreal. Although Harding played strong in the loss, instead of getting into a third straight game, he was placed back on the bench. He didn't start again until Nov. 29 in Nashville.


Harding was solid in Nashville, making 25 shots in a 6-2 win. But once again he wasn't rewarded with another start in the next game. Instead it was Backstrom in net (Dec. 1) against Colorado. Disaster struck that night, as Backstrom was pulled after allowing six goals on 26 shots and Harding played the third period, making five straight saves. So in what should have been an obvious decision to go with Harding, the one who had played well in the previous two games and was gaining confidence, the Wild instead negatively reinforced his solid play by benching him again.


As a result of these circumstances, Harding seemed to struggle mightily for the rest of the season. He lost his only three starts in December and then went 0-1-1 in the first half of January. His next two games, however, were both relief performances in which he stopped every shot he faced – a combined 23 saves coming on Jan. 20 and Jan. 30.


Once again, two solid games were negatively reinforced, as Backstrom would start the next five games. Harding wouldn't make his eighth start of the year until the second game of a back-to-back on Feb. 12 against the Red Wings. It turned out to be one of the best games of his career, as he made 39 saves on 43 shots in a 4-2 loss at the Joe.


And then it happened AGAIN. Instead of getting the next start after playing so well, the coaching staff decided to bench Harding for the next game (Feb. 14) against Ottawa. And once again, Backstrom ended up getting pulled and Harding played in relief. Sure enough, the trend continued, as the next game Harding started wasn't until three games later (Feb. 22). And sure enough, it was another beauty – he made 44 saves in a huge 2-1 win in Chicago.


And then it happened AGAIN. For the third or fourth time (I've lost count now)