Detroit Red Wings’ Anthony Mantha has a new special teams job: Stopping goals

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Anthony Mantha celebrated two early goals en route to a scrimmage rout Friday night, but it was time spent killing penalties that was noteworthy.

It’s something Mantha has not worked on since he was in his last year of juniors — “so, seven years ago,” he said after leading the stacked Red squad to a 7-2 victory over the White squad in a high-tempo scrimmage on Friday. With the Pistons in action on the main floor, the Wings held their event on the practice ice inside Little Caesars Arena.

It was a far more intense affair than the first scrimmage on Tuesday. Without any exhibition games, these scrimmages serve as simulations before the Wings open their season Thursday.

With Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina, Filip Hronek and Danny DeKeyser on the Red squad and Luke Glendening, Vladislav Namestnikov and Patrik Nemeth among the few NHL regulars on the White team, it would have been an upset if the guys wearing red hadn’t won.

There was a heavy emphasis on getting special teams sorted out, though Bobby Ryan, who had been slotted to play net-front on Larkin’s unit, missed the game because he was “unfit.” That’s the phrase the NHL and NHLPA wants teams to use, regardless of whether it’s related to injury, illness or personal reasons.

[ Why the Red Wings think they’ll have two effective power play units in 2021 ]

The scrimmage gave Mantha looks as a penalty killer. It’s a juicy opportunity for Mantha, who already is a regular on the power play.

“If you look at Larkin that was doing penalty kill plus five on five and power play last season, he would play around 20-22 minutes a night,” Mantha said. “It’s a big responsibility for me but I think I am willing to do it. Especially when you get two or three penalties in a row, just sitting on the bench, it’s six minutes you’re not moving, you’re not doing anything.

“I’m excited to keep the legs going and hopefully I can get the job done.”

Mantha’s value as a scorer is well established. His line with Larkin and Bertuzzi is fun to watch — Bertuzzi set up Mantha’s first goal, and Larkin set up Mantha for a one-timer to make it 2-0. But for Mantha to also be trusted to kill penalties is something new, and shows his maturation as a player.

“I think Anthony Mantha has grown a lot as a player over his time here and I think he’s continuing to grow,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Anthony ultimately does a pretty good job defensively. Sometimes it’s not in terms of moving his feet the way I want, but ultimately he’s got that big long stick and he’s smart and he just finds ways to not give up a whole lot of chances five-on-five and we thought potentially he could help our kill.”

Mantha picked up an assist during a second period that saw Hronek and Bertuzzi make it 4-0 before Taro Hirose got the white squad on the board. Joe Hicketts and Zadina pulled Team Red ahead 6-1 before the second period ended, and Bertuzzi got it to 7-1 before Frans Nielsen scored for Team White.


Jeff Blashill breaks down Red Wings’ second scrimmage

Jeff Blashill interview, Jan. 8. 2021.

Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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