Josh Anderson remains the kind of contract that could come back to haunt the Montreal Canadiens years down the line. But for now, the 26-year-old winger is a huge part of the reason why the Habs are firmly in the playoff picture, and he emphatically showed off his value in a big win Wednesday night.
The former Blue Jacket came to Montreal in October of last year in a trade for a solid scorer in Max Domi, plus a draft pick. Anderson then promptly signed a seven-year deal worth $5.5 million annually—a fair enough AAV for a guy who had scored 27 goals in his age-24 season, but still quite a commitment to a player with his kind of injury history. Before this season started up, Anderson hadn't played since December of 2019 because of shoulder surgery, and he'd also missed time in the past for a concussion and a knee sprain. All told, the Canadiens were betting big on a guy who had scored exactly one NHL goal in the previous year-and-a-half.
But Anderson has evaporated all short-term doubts by delivering his best season yet for a team that badly needs it. As Montreal hangs on to that fourth and final playoff spot in the Canadian Division—a place that's really only threatened by the possibility of a late-season Canucks surge—Anderson has delivered 17 goals in 41 games, with a team-leading five of those counting as game-winners.
He got that fifth GWG last night in a much-needed win against the Edmonton Oilers, where the Habs came in having lost seven of their last 10. But it wasn't the only or even most memorable goal that he scored. First and foremost, Anderson provided a huge team boost by matching Connor McDavid move-for-move. After the Hart Trophy favorite tied the game at one with a breakaway early in the second period, Anderson needed just 11 seconds to regain the lead for Montreal, blowing by a lead-footed Adam Larsson and using his size to make an aggressive turn towards the front of the net, then finishing up the chance.
With five minutes to go in the third, Anderson earned what turned out to be an extremely necessary insurance goal, making it 4-1 with a sweet backhand. And with the score 4-3 and the horn about to sound, Anderson was only denied an empty-net hat trick by a stick that broke on him as he was taking the shot.
Like the rest of the Canadiens, Anderson had struggled to find his scoring touch on this recent cold stretch, only hitting the back of the net once in his previous eight games. But he can exhale a bit after putting some additional pressure on himself and his team in the pregame, and then going out and backing it up. After the morning skate on Wednesday, Anderson spoke openly about the level of frustration that was building around Montreal and the fact that his team needed to get serious about the games ahead.
“I think our battle level has to come up a little bit and we got to be more hungry because we know what’s at stake here and it’s getting into the last part of the season with a certain amount of games left and we got to start playing playoff hockey now,” he said. “We can’t wait any longer.”