Captain's guidance has Wings' Mantha NHL-savvy

Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Anthony Mantha – Mantha has shown glimpses he might be able to live up to all the hype and expectations. With 10 goals over 24 games, that’s quite an impressive pace. GRADE: A

Winnipeg, Manitoba — If you’re looking for reasons why Anthony Mantha has looked even more NHL ready this season compared to when Mantha arrived for a brief spell late last season, look no further than his linemates.

Tomas Tatar, but in particular, captain Henrik Zetterberg.

It’s Zetterberg who has eased Mantha’s transition to the NHL.

“It’s been big,” said Mantha of Zetterberg’s role. “He’s been talking to me a lot. Every time we hop onto the ice for a faceoff, there’s always a play that we’re going to try, little details (whether) we’re in the defensive zone or in the offensive zone.

“He’ll tell me to just keep the puck an extra half second longer to make the right play. He just helps me all around and at the same time it builds confidence.”

The influence on a young player from a veteran such as Zetterberg, with the credentials that Zetterberg has earned through a star-studded career, might mean more than from the coaching staff.

“For sure, and when it comes from Z, it’s even bigger,”  Mantha said. “I’m not perfect right now. Tats (Tatar) told me (during a game) to keep the puck once or twice when I got it behind the net. I threw it in front of the net, and instead of doing those plays, just keep going around the net and make a play.

“Them telling me is helping me out and I’m learning from those guys. It’s just great to play with those two.”

Mantha entered Tuesday’s game with three goals and three assists (six points) in 11 games, with a plus-2 rating while averaging 16 minutes 31 seconds of ice time.

Mantha hasn’t been told whether he’s here to stay in the NHL, but with injured players returning to the lineup in the days ahead, Mantha will know soon enough.

“It’s going to be almost a month in a week or so that I’m up here, time is going quick,” Mantha said. “I just need to keep playing. I need to try to be an impact player so they can’t send me down. That’s my goal right now.

“So far I’m doing a pretty good job. I just need to keep going that way.”

Steady addition

There were no surprises Sunday when defenseman Brian Lashoff was inserted into the lineup.

Lashoff played over 15 minutes paired with  Niklas Kronwall and played a steady, sound defensive game.

Lashoff, 26, has 118 NHL games on his resume, so it’s not like he’s wide-eyed at this level.

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It showed Sunday against the New York Islanders, when Lashoff and Kronwall were scored on early, but Lashoff shook off the disappointment quickly.

“What I liked about him, it didn’t faze him,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He just kept playing. That’s what a veteran presence can do to your lineup. They don’t get shook up or rattled. They just keep playing and as the game went along, he just kept playing real good, to be honest with you.

“He and Kroner were a good pairing. He goes back for a puck, is strong on it, and can take a hit to make a play.”

It’s been frustrating at times, said Lashoff, to remain in the American League but Lashoff has continued to work to get back to the NHL level.

“I just focused on being persistent and staying on it and working on the things I needed to do to get back up here,” Lashoff said. “When I got back up here, I want to contribute and not just be up to fill in. I want to be up here and contribute for sure.”

Injury update

Goalie Jimmy Howard (groin) and forward Andreas Athanasiou (knee) will be able to practice with the team Thursday, said Blashill, meaning a return to the lineup isn’t far away.

Defenseman Alexey Marchenko (shoulder) could be involved in Thursday’s practice, said Blashill, depending on how Marchenko got through Tuesday’s individual workout.