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Is Brittany Howard already hunting history?

Howard has begun her PHF career with 12 goals in 10 GP

PHF

Toronto Six star winger Brittany Howard was named the PHF’s Player of the Month for December for scoring 5 goals and picking up 3 assists across 4 GP. That big December is just a fraction of what has already been a preposterously productive debut season in Toronto. Howard is entering the New Year with a jaw-dropping 12 goals in her first 10 GP — not to mention 4 assists, all of which are primary.

It’s an impressive start and it has Howard on pace to chase down a major PHF single-season record.

Right now, Howard is an unstoppable force for the T6. Teams are doing everything in their power to stop her from scoring goals but she has failed to score in just two of her 10 games and has come away without a point just once (Nov. 26 against the Pride). Howard’s 16 primary points in 10 GP is downright dominant, which is why she’s an early frontrunner for MVP. She’s a true offensive engine.

Howard has been driving Toronto’s offense.
Viz created by An Nguyen | @nguyenank_

“Brittany Howard has developed into one of the best, or even the best player in the PHF, and the Toronto Six are lucky to have her,” said Toronto head coach Geraldine Heaney. “She is one of the hardest workers on and off the ice while trying to get better every day.”

Howard has been scoring on breakaways, banging in greasy goals, burying power-play goals, and has one empty-netter thus far. Her 12 goals in 10 GP at the holiday break has her in a position to chase down Allie Thunstrom’s record for goals in a single season.

In the 2019-20 campaign, Allie Thunstrom scored a ridiculous 24 goals in 24 games. She was automatic that year. Of those 24 goals, only 1 was put into an empty net, which means that Thunstrom spent an entire season making great goalies look silly. The highest total since that year was Thunstrom’s 18-goal (in 20 GP) 2021-22 season — she’s good at the whole scoring goals thing. No other player has ever scored 20 in an NWHL/PHF season. But that was before Howard joined the league.

Howard and the Six are about 40% into the 2022-23 season which means she has a lot of runway ahead of her to chase Thunstrom down. The big question is whether or not she can keep this blistering pace up.

Howard’s first 10 GP of 2022-23

12 goals (3 PPG)

4 assists

46 SOG | 4.6 SOG/GP

26.1 Sh%

Thunstrom’s first 10 GP of 2019-20

6 goals (2 PPG)

5 assists

59 SOG | 5.9 SOG/GP

10.16 Sh%

Howard is about as hot as you can get as a sniper. She’s scoring on more than one out of every four shots she puts on net (26.1 Sh%). That’s a ridiculous number, even for a player as elite as she is. That percentage is likely being boosted because of the chemistry on T6’s top line — Emma Woods and Shiann Darkangelo have been amazing — but it is going to come down. Honestly, it has nowhere else to go. The league average Sh% is 9.85 and that includes 11 empty-netters across the league. Without those ENG, that league-wide shooting percentage is 9.32%.

Another factor here is shot volume.

When Thunstrom scored 24 in 24 in 2019-20, she averaged 5.9 SOG/GP and 6.96 KSt/GP (shots on net plus shots blocked by opposing skaters). Howard’s average shot volume is noticeably lower thus far at 4.6 SOG/GP and 6.0 KSt/GP. Of course, shot quality matters more than volume — but we don’t have public data there yet. The eyeball test confirms that Howard is shooting from dangerous areas — I don’t think she knows how to do anything but create and finish on scoring chances — but you do have to shoot to score. She’ll need to keep firing the puck and calling her own number on rushes to catch Thunstrom.

Looking at Howard’s first 10 GP in 2022-23 and Thunstrom’s first 10 in 2019-20 can also be misleading. Howard’s hot start this season looks unsustainable but you could say the same of a 10-game stretch Thunstrom had where she potted 13 goals and shot 23.2%. Say it with me, friends: context is everything. Goal-scorers get hot. They go through slumps. They have monster games and quiet games or games where they excel off the puck but what media and fans focus on is a snapped scoring streak.

It seems hard to think of Howard having a “quiet” game because she’s been so dominant and confident on the puck. If she keeps that up, anything is possible. For Toronto, what matters most is winning hockey games. It just so happens that Howard calling her own number and ripping the puck at the net is a great way to win hockey games. If it ain’t broke, keep shooting the puck. And keep getting the puck to Howard when she has a window to make some magic happen.

If Howard and her linemates can stay healthy and if she keeps finding her scoring chances and pulling the trigger, she has it in her to chase down Thunstrom’s record. That’s incredible but it’s what we’re dealing with here. It speaks to how much talent is in this league and how much potential there is in any hockey stick Brittany Howard puts her hands on. Right now, she’s the best goal scorer in pro women’s hockey. Twelve goals down, 12 more to go. The hunt is on.

Data in this story was tracked and collated by the author from the PHF site.