Hockey is, by definition, a team sport. Often it’s argued that it’s one of the tightest team sports out there. Players aren’t supposed to talk about individual accomplishments, especially when the team is doing poorly.
Fortunately, I’m not a player. In a Montreal Canadiens season with very few bright spots, I’m going to hype the heck out of Josh Anderson.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that I was down on him last year but I definitely didn’t feel as though we got to see the real Anderson.
He would look spectacular on rushing plays but contributed very little else to the team. The trouble with that was the team needed the forwards to play down low defensively so they had a hard time springing Anderson for those rushing plays.
In last year’s playoffs, I received multiple messages in my DMs asking what was wrong with Anderson. My boiled-down response was “Nothing, he’s a specialist.” If the team wasn’t planning on playing to his specialty then they shouldn’t have given him this big contract.
But this year, it seems that I can’t go a week on my podcast without bringing up multiple examples of Anderson making incredible little plays that help the team.
The first goal of the year scored by Jonathan Drouin was Anderson threading a pass at speed through a defender for a perfect setup. Last year’s Anderson probably would have had his head down and fired at the net as hard as he could.
That level of awareness was seemingly not in his game in the previous season. Speaking of awareness, how about Brendan Gallagher’s first goal? Anderson kicked a puck out of mid-air and then batted it to Gallagher with his stick as soon as it came to ice level. Not only did he find a seam with that pass but it landed on the ice to make it an easy tap-in for Gallagher.
Those are some soft hands, or silky mitts as they say in my part of the country, and certainly not something that I’m used to seeing from the Powerhorse.
So here’s the greatest irony in all of this. What has his newfound skillset led to? More rushing attempts which were his bread and butter from the very beginning.
According to most of his on-ice analytics (how the team does as a whole while he’s on the ice), he’s in similar relative positions to his team this year as last year. However, some of his individual stats have skyrocketed.
According to Natural Stat Trick, last season at 5v5 he had 0.4 rush attempts per 60 minutes of play. So far this year that’s gone up to 2.5/60. More than five times better.
Likewise, scoring chances per 60 went from 9.5 to 11.3.
Now, in fairness, rush attempts — and to a lesser extent, scoring chances — are considered microstats. There’s a debate in the analytics community as to how beneficial microstats are.
The trouble is accurately measuring the importance of one small specific aspect of a player’s game. Sometimes this leads to overestimating or underestimating a player because they’re good at one specific thing.
Because it’s difficult to correlate microstats with tangible results I’m not normally their biggest fan. However, in Anderson’s case, it’s very clear what he needs to do to be successful, and as the numbers show, he’s doing it.