Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha talks about his fight against Calgary’s Travis Hamonic. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Detroit — Sure, after the Detroit Red Wings’ victory over Calgary on Wednesday night, the “old-time hockey” brawl was the hot topic among fans.
But that brawl overshadowed the performance of the Red Wings’ young stars Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and, especially, Anthony Mantha.
Each had three points – Athanasiou and Mantha both scored two goals – and the Flames had no way to slow the fast and skilled young players.
But it was Mantha who also showed a physical edge, engaging in a fierce fight with Calgary’s Travis Hamonic during the brawl.
Mantha has proven to be an underrated fighter. It’s a dimension that coach Jeff Blashill doesn’t mind, adding it makes Mantha that much more of an overall dangerous player.
“Guys can get hurt in a lot of ways,” said Blashill, adding Mantha’s fighting doesn’t bother the coaching staff. “One thing that makes him part of the total package is he’s tough. I’ve seen him fight a number of times. He’s tougher than people understand.
“And that toughness, it gives you space out there at times, and that’s important.”
The two goals Wednesday gives Mantha a team-leading 10 along with team-best 19 points.
Mantha has been on a tear of late, with 11 of those points in the last eight games.
Watching him during this streak, with the physical edge, the hands, the ability to set up a play, it’s no wonder the Red Wings feel they have a future force in the NHL.
“He can be a superstar in this league,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, after the Calgary game. “He can do it in many ways, whether it’s his hands, his shots, or deflecting pucks in front.
“If he continues to work at his craft the sky is the limit for him.”
Said Blashill of Mantha’s surge: “It’s part of the maturation of him as a player. As you mature as a player, he gets more ice time. You get more ice time, you get a chance to produce more when you’re as talented as he is.”
Mantha takes the praise in stride.
Just two seasons ago, members of the Red Wings’ front office were disappointed with his progress and weren’t sure if he would ever become aggressive and motivated enough to be an impact player.
Even last season there were several benchings by Blashill when Mantha wasn’t moving his feet, not engaged enough on the ice.
But at the start of this season, Mantha has shown he understands what it takes to succeed in the NHL.
“It’s great to hear,” Mantha said. “It’s always fun when teammates talk good about you. I just need to keep going that way.
“If (Howard) think I’m playing good, if I keep going that way, it could be a good impact for the team.”
Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill talks about forward Anthony Mantha's improvement in front of the net. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
What have been the keys for the emergence this season for Mantha, Larkin and Athanasiou?
Certainly their consistency offensively is one factor. They’re scoring at a steady clip, which is giving the Red Wings an opportunity to win every night.
But they’re playing well on the defensive end of the rink, which wasn’t always the case last season.
“They’ve been real good,” Blashill said. “They’re playing fairly complete games, which doesn’t just translate to points, it translate to winning. That’s a real important thing for people to remember.
“Those guys and myself have talked lots about it. We want to be winning hockey players, not point players, and they’ve done a real good job of that. They’ve played complete games and they’re obviously real talented guys. We need guys to step up and produce and certainly they’re guys that can do it.”
General manager Ken Holland said Thursday there was a good chance both defenseman Trevor Daley (upper body) and forward Darren Helm (upper body) would be available for Friday's game against Buffalo.
Daley didn’t play the third period against Calgary, while Helm didn’t play at all after being injured in Saturday’s game against Columbus.
… Because of Luke Witkowski’s 10-game suspension stemming from Wednesday’s brawl, Holland said the Red Wings will be calling up a player from Grand Rapids.
… Holland said defenseman Danny DeKeyser (ankle), who hasn’t played since Oct. 10, could be ready to rejoin the lineup Sunday, or the middle of next week.
SABRES AT RED WINGS
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena
TV / radio: FSD-Plus / 97.1 FM
Outlook: The Sabres (5-9-4, 14 points) are sitting last in the Eastern Conference and have a minus-21 goal differential. … LW Evander Kane (11 goals) and C Jack Eichel (11 assists) have been bright spots.