No matter how many times Josh Anderson barrelled up the wing against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night, you couldn’t take your eyes off his strides, his size, his puck control and sometimes whoever was left in his dust.
It’s something Habs fans haven’t been used to seeing in quite some time. Some fans may think of Max Pacioretty, others may even think back to the early 2000s with a player like Richard Zednik. But it has been a while since the Canadiens have had a power forward — or a “power horse” — who could effortlessly drive to the net thanks to his build and be counted on as a goalscorer while drifting past the opposing team’s best players.
You can credit Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar for the term “power horse,” by the way.
“He’s just a power horse,” Tatar said earlier this week at a media availability during training camp. “Great skater. I knew he was fast, for sure, but you never realize until you’re working with a guy every day. He’s very strong on his skates, a very good shot. I think he has a lot to bring to our team and we’re very lucky to have him.”
Those attributes Tatar listed were on full display for the Canadiens in a 5-4 season-opening overtime loss to the Maple Leafs. Anderson scored a pair of goals in his Canadiens debut, which is twice the number of goals he scored as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. He also had seven shots on net and three hits to go with his pair of goals.
1ST GOAL AS A HAB 👊
🚨 JOSH ANDERSON
2-1 MTL pic.twitter.com/jt0EOGpTO6
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) January 14, 2021
“Tonight, what he did is what we needed,” head coach Claude Julien said after the game. “A guy who can bring the puck to the net with his speed, and he’s capable of using his body to move the puck to that area. I think that he’s a good asset for our team and that’s an encouraging sign for us.”
“Obviously, it’s not about me,” Anderson said following the game. “I think that as a team we felt pretty good coming into tonight. I obviously think we were the better team. Obviously we talked about, before the game, (to) stay out of the box with these guys because that's where they get momentum. And, obviously, they did tonight. I think anyone who watched the game (saw) we were the better team out there. But we're not going to forget this one. (We'll) come out next time and play better.”
There were concerns about whether or not Anderson would be at 100 percent following shoulder surgery when the Canadiens acquired him via trade for Max Domi this past summer. The Canadiens also needed to ensure that they’d be getting someone who could put the puck in the back of the net.
But while Anderson did score 27 times during the 2018-19 season, his ensuing seven-year, $38.5 million contract ($5.5M AAV) did not immediately assuage worries. His annual salary at the time tied him with Jonathan Drouin for the highest-paid forward on the team — Brendan Gallagher now has that honour at $6.5 million annually — based on production he’s delivered in years past prior to a brutal shoulder injury.
But after Wednesday’s performance, it seems you can put those concerns to rest for now. His immediate impact is helping to carve a new identity for the Canadiens, a team that is trying to play bigger, faster and stronger on the ice.
I'm not used to seeing so many big guys on the ice wearing #Habs sweaters.
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) January 14, 2021
Anderson played a key role as one-third of the Canadiens’ most dangerous offensive trio alongside sophomore centre Nick Suzuki and the skilled yet much-maligned Drouin. The trio combined for six points in the game and showed little rust despite not having exhibition games to test out their chemistry.
“I thought we played really hard,” Anderson said. “Obviously it was a quick camp, nine or 10 days just to get ready for the season. But I thought we did a lot of good things out there.”
“Those three had a good training camp,” Julien said. “We started seeing some chemistry that’s trying to be established and it showed up tonight. I hope that what we saw is just a sample for what could happen this year and with more time playing together, I hope they’ll get even better.”
If that trio proves to be effective, there’s a good chance it means Anderson should be putting up some pretty good numbers this season. The Canadiens will need it, filling a hole they’ve needed to be filled for quite some time.
More from Yahoo Sports: