Wings' Mantha makes impression in NHL debut

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Anthony Mantha (39) of the Detroit Red Wings skates in his first NHL game against the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday.

Philadelphia – Tuesday’s loss in Philadelphia did provide one bright spot for the Red Wings.

Anthony Mantha, in his NHL debut, looked like he belonged.

Playing on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar, Mantha had four shots on net and had at least two decent scoring chances.

Datsyuk and Tatar both scored goals, but Mantha wasn’t involved in either play to earn assist.

Mantha did use his big 6-foot-5 body, though, to his advantage in the corners and around the net and appeared ready overall to launch his NHL career.

“It’s only the first game, one quick morning skate, I hope I get my chance with those guys again,” Mantha said. “We’ll see how it goes in the future.

“Amazing for sure, unfortunately we lost,” said Mantha of the evening. “I had a few opportunities and few battles down low in the first period. I was just trying to keep it simple and trying to find my legs. As the game went along, it got better and better.”

Jumping into a crucial, late-season game with playoff implications isn’t easy for any rookie but Mantha adjusted quickly.

And it’s a night he won’t soon forget.

Playoff streak weighs heavily on minds of young Wings

“It was something special,” Mantha said. “But it’s just hockey and it’s a fun game and I just wanted to play the best hockey I could out there.”

When the Red Wings recalled Mantha from Grand Rapids Monday, both general manager Ken Holland and coach Jeff Blashill said they did so with the intention of playing the forward on a scoring line and maximizing his potential.

Blashill liked what he saw out of Mantha in an intense, hard-fought game.

“Mantha played really really well, I thought he showed really really well,” Blashill said. “He must have had three or four either chances himself or created chances.

“He was really good. He kicked the one to the back door to Tatar, it got on his feet.”

What pleased Blashill, most, though was Mantha’s ability and willingness to win battles.

“What I thought to myself was if he wins stick battles like this on a regular basis in the NHL, he’s going to be a good player for a long time,” Blashill said.

Mantha’s potential also excited captain Henrik Zetterberg.

“He’s a big body, skates well, he’s got a lot of hockey in him,” Zetterberg said. “It’s going to be fun to see what he can do here down the stretch.”

Areas to improve

When the Red Wings play Thursday in Columbus, there are definite areas Blashill wants to see improvement in.

Specifically, the team’s resiliency after allowing a goal and team defense.

Both areas were below-standard in Philadelphia.

“We have to keep pucks out of our net early and when we get scored on we can’t let the momentum get away from us,” Blashill said. “We just have to go out the next shift and make sure it’s a momentum changing shift the other way.

“We haven’t done a good enough job of that (lately). We have to keep pucks out of our net early.

“Our (defensive) core has to be better, unforced errors for nothing. We carried large stretches of the game and then all of a sudden, an unforced error.

“They (Philadelphia’s goals) were defensible plays for sure.  Now they created some once they got rolling in the first (period) in the (offensive) zone, they did a good job of getting pucks to the net, a good job of getting bodies to the net. (But) three of the four were certainly ones that were preventable.”

Ice chips

The Red Wings took Wednesday off as they begin the remainder of this four-game, nine-day road trip.

Andreas Athanasiou’s speed was again a factor against the Flyers, scoring his sixth goal after roaring around the Flyers defense off a rush. “His speed is going to create opportunities,” Blashill said. “He’s one of those rare guys who doesn’t need to play lots of minutes to create opportunities because his speed can put teams on their heels.”

Red Wings at Blue Jackets

Faceoff: 7, Thursday, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

TV/radio: FSD/97.1, 1270.

Outlook:   The teams have split two games this season (Red Wings won in a shootout)…Columbus D Jack Johnson (Michigan) will have season-ending shoulder surgery Thursday.