Martin St. Louis was asked Tuesday morning about Sean Monahan because he was about to face his former team, and how Montreal Canadiens fans have embraced him and love him since his trade from the Calgary Flames.
The response was eloquent and felt particularly poignant after the game, one the Canadiens lost 2-1, their fourth straight game scoring a single goal at five-on-five.
“When you respect the game, the discipline, how you carry yourself, when you respect the rules of the game — and I’m not talking about penalties, we always talk about those rules — the game usually respects you back,” St. Louis said.
Try telling that to Josh Anderson. He is respecting the rules of the game, and he is not getting that respect back from the game. Imagine how Anderson must have felt watching Gustav Lindström score his first goal in a Canadiens uniform, the incredibly lucky bounce he got here.
The Habs respond 17 seconds later! Tie game! pic.twitter.com/KHnWrMspkV
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 15, 2023
Banking a shot in off Rasmus Andersson’s stick and needing a couple more bounces to get a puck past the goal line is exactly what Anderson needs right now, but instead, he’s getting this.
Jacob Markstrom makes an incredible save on Josh Anderson! pic.twitter.com/ncWLUrYWab
— Robert Munnich (@RingOfFireCGY) November 15, 2023
That look on Anderson’s face after the save is a revealing window into where his head is at. In terms of expected goals in all situations this season, Anderson is fourth on the team, according to Natural Stat Trick. Everyone else in the top five has been rewarded for generating those chances.
Anderson has not.
The only player in the NHL with more expected goals in all situations who hasn’t scored is Washington’s T.J. Oshie, who has 5.54 expected goals in 14 games played. Anderson is 55th in the NHL in individual expected goals, and the next-highest player not to score a goal this season is Anaheim’s Rickard Rackell, who is 105th with 4.19 expected goals. So this tweet wasn’t exactly accurate. Anderson is the second-unluckiest hockey player in the world right now.
Josh Anderson, the unluckiest hockey player on earth right now, hits the crossbar.
— Arpon Basu (@ArponBasu) November 15, 2023
Anderson is not necessarily a religious man, but he admits he’s wondering if he’s done something to upset a higher power.
“I don’t know who up there is having a hard time with me,” he said. “I don’t understand it, to be honest with you. It’s definitely getting frustrating right now.”
And the thought of trying to get to sleep after a game where he got robbed at a critical time in the game and hit a crossbar earlier seemed daunting to him.
“I’m going to be very frustrated going to sleep tonight looking back on tonight’s game,” Anderson said. “But it’s a new day, work on my shot in practice, worry about scoring goals in practice and that’s all you can worry about. Just try to get better.”
Anderson has been through something like this before. In his final season with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019-20 he scored one goal all season and none in his final 21 games before his season was shut down due to a shoulder injury.
“I went through something a little bit similar in Columbus, but I had an excuse there with being injured,” Anderson said. “There’s zero excuses this year. Just got to find a way.”
When he was offered an excuse that the shot he rang off the crossbar in the second period could have gone in with a little more luck, Anderson would have none of it, to his credit.
“Nah,” he said. “I want those shots all day, and it’s my job to put them in the back of the net. I’ve just got to find a way to get them through.”
After the game against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night, St. Louis revealed his technique for handling a slump like this, one where everything is going right except the final result of seeing a hockey puck enter the net.
“Humour usually works,” he said then.
Anderson was asked after the game Tuesday night about St. Louis’ humour remark, and he said it does work to some extent. But he’s past that point now.
“I would probably say for the first 12 games, I was still feeling OK and not worrying about scoring because I knew it was going to come,” he said. “But over the last couple of games, with Boston, Detroit, (Vancouver) and now Calgary, I mean, when you’ve got two or three Grade-A scoring chances and still nothing, it’s frustrating.
“And the fact you can’t help your team win, that’s painful.”
Though it is easy to focus on Anderson, the fact is the Canadiens as a team are not shooting the lights out. Even though he would probably disagree, this is a team problem, not an Anderson problem.
St. Louis was an historic finisher as a player, someone who was able to score key goals at key moments on a consistent basis. But though he believes hockey sense can be taught, finishing is something that goes somewhat beyond coaching. Yes, individual skills can help. But a coach’s job is to create the conditions to finish, to have the team play in such a way that scoring chances are abundant. What the players do with those chances is up to the players.
St. Louis said finishing comes down to getting shots off quickly in the scoring area, it comes down to shooting radius, taking imperfect passes and letting go of imperfect shots as long as they get to the net quickly.
“It’s OK if you don’t know where it’s going, it’s about how quickly you let it go,” he said. “If you don’t know where it’s going, the goalie doesn’t know where it’s going. So it’s to let it go as fast as possible because the goalies are so good. So when you take your time, when you stop the puck, then you need a perfect shot, because the goalies are so good.”
What St. Louis is talking about is skill. Skilled players can get shots off quickly under imperfect circumstances, and his team is doing everything right except the act of putting the puck in the net.
The Canadiens have skill coaches, but they might just lack innate skill. Anderson is the poster child for the Canadiens’ inability to score right now, but he will get his goals eventually. He always has.
The overall lack of skill up front is, from a big-picture perspective, probably more of a concern. If the Canadiens continue playing this way, the pendulum will swing back to them scoring enough goals to win. It usually does.
But this stretch of four games where the Canadiens have scored once at five-on-five speaks to a problem that is far greater than an Anderson slump. He is simply a symptom of it.
(Photo of Josh Anderson and Nikita Zadorov: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)