Detroit Red Wings’ Anthony Mantha rips his own performance in 5 of 6 games

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Anthony Mantha’s self-evaluation process is not complicated. It also has given him a passing grade this season.

As the Detroit Red Wings seek to redeem themselves in a two-game series at Dallas after two stinkers in Chicago, Mantha is trying to figure out how he can lead the effort. It could be argued that, at 26 and flush with a new contract, he should not be ihaving to answer for having just one goal and a minus-5 rating in six games. But he is after a particularly uninspired outing in the second game against the Blackhawks. With two top-six forwards among their five players in COVID-19 protocol, the Wings need Mantha playing like the power forward he can be, not wondering why he is not.

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“If I had the answer I would put it in the back of my bag and always be 100% and be the best player I can be,” Mantha said Monday. “I don’t have an answer.”

He did have an answer, though, when asked how he judges if he has played well: “If I am skating, if I am having good shifts in the o-zone, if I am not spending too much time in my d-zone, I think it ends up being a good game.”

And how many of those has he had this season? “One,” he said. “The one we won in OT.”

That game, on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Little Caesars Arena, featured a power play goal from Mantha as part of a three-game point streak. Signed during the offseason to a four-year, $22.8 million deal that demonstrates how the Wings value Mantha as part of the rebuild, he is needed for more victory celebrations, and fewer egregious defensive lapses like the one Sunday when he sent a puck to a Blackhawks player, leading to a goal, and failed to engage another ‘Hawk at Detroit’s net, resulting in a 4-1 Chicago lead. That goal wasn’t entirely on Mantha, though. Vladislav Namestnikov also failed to pressure Patrick Kane.

It’s not like Mantha and Namestnikov don’t know better, so what does a coach do in such cases?

“The way I’ve always looked at it from a coaching perspective is, you want to look out and see your team look like they know what they are doing, look like they are organized, look like they know how to react in different situations,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “There is chaos in games that goes beyond every particular system structure — you can’t say, this is going to happen. That’s where hockey smarts play a big factor.

“Ultimately I thought we were as porous defensively as we have been all season. We gave up too much easy ice. How can I handle that? The best way is to work to correct it and that’s what we worked on – through videos, through meetings individually, and through going on the ice and practicing.”

Namestnikov was brought in to help with secondary scoring, but he has yet to tally a point, despite having chances. Blashill met with both Mantha and Namestnikov in Dallas on Monday and emphasized good habits.

“They both need to produce and certainly a guy like Mantha is relied upon to produce a lot, but I don’t think he should judge his game on a nightly basis solely on points,” Blashill said. “In both cases, we’ve focused more on their play away from the puck being where it needed to be. At times it has been, at times it hasn’t been.

“There are other guys as well to make sure they understand let’s focus on play away from the puck. If you check well, you have the puck way more and you can utilize your skill set. That’s been the message to really the whole team, but certainly those two guys.”

[ Red Wings see Anthony Mantha as premier power forward — one day ]

Getting Mantha to play at a high level on a consistent basis has been an ongoing challenge for several seasons running. At 6-foot-5 and 234 pounds, and with a powerful stride that can back down opponents, Mantha can be a beast. Will he set himself up for a passing grade in Dallas?

“I’m someone that’s hard on myself,” Mantha said. “I want to get better. That’s the mentality I’m going in with.

“I just need to get my game going and doing what I do best.”

The game goes on

The Wings have five players in the NHL’s COVID protocol: Forwards Adam Erne, Robby Fabbri, Sam Gagner and Filip Zadina and defenseman Jon Merrill. That’s the same number of players out which triggered the original postponement of three games for the Carolina Hurricanes — the Canes have since had a sixth player enter protocol and had a Tuesday’s game also postponed. But so far there has not been a disruption to the Wings’ schedule. Blashill said team personnel were in touch with the NHL and the Players Association when the group grew to five Jan. 22, and that part of what factors into making a decision on games is containing outbreaks.

“It leads to some inequity, certainly, with some teams playing without a number of players and some teams getting games postponed,” he said. “I’ve not been told exactly how that is determined. There were conversations how to best handle the situation.”

Blashill estimated players will miss 18-21 days. Fabbri and Erne were put in protocol Jan. 18.

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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