Matt Anderson’s first NHL recall two weeks ago gave him a taste of the game at the top level.
Tastes like a carrot.
Since his return to the Albany Devils the AHL, he has skated like that carrot is tied to the end of his stick, recording three goals (and one shootout goal) and four assists in three wins last week to earn the AHL Player of the Week award.
“It’s done wonders,” Anderson said of the recall. “I feel good about myself, and I should. I worked for a long time to get that opportunity, and to have it come to fruition was great for me, mentally.”
He’s skating well and finding more scoring opportunities because of it. The trip up to the NHL also made him take a more critical look at the way he was playing.
Anderson said he was disappointed to see some bad habits that he had developed, and he’s working to eliminate them.
“When I went up to the NHL, I saw how things are done there a little more efficiently and with a little more focus,” he said. “Over the past few years, some bad habits have crept into my game. Hopefully, I can get rid of them and continue moving forward.”
He’ll try to maintain his momentum when the Albany Devils host the Syracuse Crunch tonight at 7.
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said he’s seen a change in Anderson’s confidence since he returned from Newark.
“That’s a little carrot ahead of him now,” Kowalsky said. “He’s played well all year. We’ve had guys in and out of the lineup, and I think he’s been frustrated. I talked to him at times this season about how he’s done a lot of good things and had chances but just didn’t score. [Bobby] Butler went through that, now they’re starting to go in.
“His linemates are playing well, with [Steve] Zalewski and [Joe] Whitney, but I think the biggest thing is he’s just confident [from] those couple games in the NHL. It’s a long season, and guys go through stages, and he’s a guy right now who’s confident with and without the puck.”
Butler is playing with New Jersey, but before this recall, he was skating with Zalewski and Whitney, too.
Zalewski said it’s been fun being linemates with both Butler and Anderson, and when they are on their game, it lifts the whole line.
“When you’re playing with someone who has a little jump in your step, you’re going to pick up your game,” Zalewski said. “I know when I get the puck, [Anderson] is going to be working and get himself open. When he’s got the puck, I know if I do the same, he’s going to be looking for me. The same goes for Whitney. I think that motivates you and keeps you excited. Every shift, you build confidence and you’re playing in the offensive zone.”
Zalewski has played 10 games in the NHL — three with San Jose in the 2009-10 season and seven with New Jersey last season — so he knows what a shot in the arm those first few recalls can be.
“He’s been pretty consistent for us as long as I’ve played with him,” Zalewski said of Anderson. “It seems like, though, in the last couple weeks he’s had a little more jump in his step, a little more pace to his game. You go up there and you play, and even though it’s just a couple games, just getting a feel for that and seeing it, that forces you to elevate your game and makes you realize you can play. You can make plays at a faster pace, you can make plays in traffic, and it gives you a new sense of confidence when you come back here and things are maybe a little slower.”
The way Anderson is looking at it, his two games in the NHL reminded him of the player he could or should be.
“I think it’s a mind frame,” Anderson said. “If I didn’t expect I was capable of something like this, I’d be in the wrong profession. As long as I can keep that positive mind frame and keep working hard . . . obviously, it seems a little out of my nature right now to be having the success that I’m having, but I believe in myself, and hopefully, I can keep it going.”