EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. – The Wild is preparing to play without Josh Harding for a while. The NHL’s leader in goals-against average was placed on injured reserve Monday and has missed six of eight games since having his treatment for multiple sclerosis adjusted.
“He’s just not feeling well,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We’re not hiding anything here. He just doesn’t feel well and whatever that’s from, I can’t say. I don’t want to speculate.
“I think he’s feeling a little better, but he’s not able to play right now. So we just kept him back rather than flying to this part of the country. It’s a long flight, and heat’s not a really good thing for him.”
Harding, 18-7-3 with a 1.65 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and three shutouts, was indisputably the Wild’s most valuable player the first 2 ½ months of the season. After being placed on IR on Dec. 18 and missing four games, he returned Dec. 29, lost two games and has missed two since.
Niklas Backstrom gave up 17 goals in the first four games (all losses) that Harding missed. But Backstrom is coming off consecutive victories, allowing four goals in two games.
“We’d love for that to keep going,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We need him right now. Hopefully this is the right opportunity for him to really step up and grab a hold of it.”
Backstrom, 35, got a day off practice Monday.
“He likes to have his practice time,” Yeo said, “but some of that preparation now has to come from taking care of your body and making sure that you’re getting the rest that’s required, too.”
Dumba in transit
Fletcher is close to returning defenseman Matt Dumba, who played 13 games earlier this season, to Portland of the Western Hockey League.
Fletcher first wants Wild doctors to examine Dumba, who was injured during the World Junior Championship and also suffered from a virus that led to weight loss.
The Winterhawks are one of the best teams in major Canadian juniors, and Dumba could get a long playoff run to help his development.
With Jared Spurgeon injured, Jon Blum has been called up from Iowa of the AHL and is now the Wild’s seventh defenseman.
Nino Niederreiter, 21, was named to Switzerland’s Olympic team Monday.
“I’m really happy I got selected and I’m a part of it,” Niederreiter said. “I think we have a strong team.”
Injured Mikko Koivu is a lock to make Finland’s team Tuesday, but Mikael Granlund (Finland) and Jonas Brodin (Sweden) will be eagerly awaiting word about their Olympic status.
• Ryan Suter, one point from the 300th of his career, was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week. He recorded the first hat trick by a defenseman in Wild history against Washington on Saturday.
• Right winger Justin Fontaine, who missed Saturday’s game after getting hurt in Friday’s practice, practiced Monday and will play against Los Angeles on Tuesday.