Wings' Mantha making strides to have impact every game

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Anthony Mantha is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the first regular-season goal at Little Caesars Arena during the second period of Thursday's 4-2 win over the Wild.

Detroit  The first goal scored in Little Caesars Arena has its significance.

But when Anthony Mantha absorbed Martin Frk’s errant shot on a 5-on-3 power play and chopped the flopping puck into the Wild net at 14:40 of the second period Thursday's regular-season opener, it gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead, after Jimmy Howard kept them in the game.

It is the kind of big goal the Wings would like to see throughout a long career for the big 23-year-old in Detroit.

Asked what went well and what he could improve in his 71st game played for the Red Wings, Mantha immediately referenced team play.

“What went good for me? I mean, our line played great,” he said. “With Larkin, Frk and myself, we had a good night.”

And then the goal scorer immediately discussed the one that went the other way.

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“I think we had a little slump there, in the second period. We had a goal they scored on us," Mantha said. "We watched the video on that goal this morning, and it’s just learning the process. Maybe two, three feet on the ice would make a huge difference.”

Mantha credited Jeff Blashill, his coach for most of the past four seasons, with pounding home the message: Be an everyday player.

“Well, I think he, like a lot of guys, he is still working towards it,” Blashill said. “I think we probably have as good an example of that, with (Henrik) Zetterberg, as anyone in the league. It’s good model to follow.

“It’s still a work in progress. These are years of habits that, over the last couple of years, we’ve been trying to break with Anthony, and he’s trying to break. And he’s doing a great job.

“He’s been an impactful player on most nights. So, let’s keep going.”

Blashill believes the young line can make a significant difference.

“I think that line can be a separator for us,” he said. “I think if they can play at real high level and play the way winning hockey takes, they can really, really boost our team.

“I think they can handle that responsibility.”


Feeling out process

It will take some more playing in Little Caesars Arena to truly assess playing conditions.

But the ice is improving, and a bit of a work in progress as the new surface gets skated in and conditions in the building become familiar.

“You go through games, you learn the humidity level and things like that so we can create less snow,” Blashill said.

“The snow builds up a little bit fast. That’s one big thing.”

The end boards do not toss pucks back at attacking forwards, so the rebound pass may not be as much a part of the Wings’ arsenal, or the opponents’, as it famously was in Joe Louis Arena.

“We were looking for a few of the old bounces off the end wall last night,” the coach said. “We didn’t get them.”

Crowd factor

The second or third periods, played with the house about half full, started poorly for the Red Wings.

Blashill and a few players mention the coincidental absence of the solid wall of loud fans the building was designed to inflict on opponents.

Of course they understand it is up to them to play the game, and that fans in the new stadium have an entertaining concourse to explore, with a small Red Wings’ museum yet to come.

“That’s one of the challenges of a great building with so much to offer, especially with a new building where they’re checking things out,” Blashill said.

“And we need them in the stands. I thought there were moments when it was real full and moments when it wasn’t. We need them in the stands, as much as possible.

“It’s a loud building. So it will be a huge home ice advantage when they’re in the stands.”

Similar circumstances occurred at Joe Louis Arena, especially given the policy of not letting fans walk to seats while play is underway, which is still enforced at Little Caesars Arena.

But it certainly would not be the first venue, in hockey and otherwise, in which the ancillary activities keep the attention of fans, even when the game is on.