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Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill says Toronto's James van Riemsdyk is a good player for Anthony Mantha to emulate. Ted Kulfan, Detroit News

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Toronto – You can bet the Red Wings’ Anthony Mantha will sneak a few peeks at Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk on Saturday night, and watch how van Riemsdyk has mastered the area around the net.

With Tomas Holmstrom long into retirement, van Riemsdyk has taken over as the best net-front player in the NHL.

Mantha (6-foot-5, 225) and van Riemsdyk (6-foot-3, 217) have the same body type – lanky and with a long reach – and with Mantha’s hand-eye coordination and knack with the puck, the potential is there to dominate around the net.

“He’s a good player in this league – I look at his game,” said Mantha, who has watched video with the coaching staff on JVR’s work. “Watch a lot of clips of him net-front, learn the details, and how to get into the right spot.”

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Entering Saturday’s game, van Riemsdyk leads the Maple Leafs with 34 goals, while averaging 14:49 of ice time. Of the 34 goals, a team-leading 11 have come on the power play.

Over the last five games, van Riemsdyk had scored eight goals.

“James van Riemsdyk is a guy we’ve talked about with Anthony,” Blashill said. “JVR has as good a hands around the net for a big guy, and makes a lot of plays, makes their power play extremely dangerous.

“A lot of penalty kills want to leave the net-front guy to the goalie. He’s a tough guy to leave alone for a goalie because of how dangerous he is in that area.”

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Much like Holmstrom, during his career with the Red Wings, success in the net-front is largely about a tough mentality and being able to absorb physical punishment.

Blashill thinks Mantha has the attributes and willingness to succeed in that real estate.

“It’s a mentality,” Blashill said. “Anthony scored a lot of points more on the outside of the ice when he was coming up through the ranks.

“(Now), it’s an understanding it’s OK to be that guy net-front. You can be a highly-skilled player and be a guy that wants to be at the net.”

Babcock on the Red Wings

Mike Babcock is now in his third season with the Maple Leafs, and has Toronto firmly in contender status with a talented young roster.

But Babcock still keeps tabs on the Red Wings. He coached in Detroit for 10 years and won one Stanley Cup.

“Obviously I know Blash and (general manager) Ken Holland, and people in the organization so you cheer for them when they’re not playing you,” Babcock said. “Smitty (assistant coach D.J. Smith) is from Windsor and he’s a lifelong Red Wing fan, so I get the scoop every night on them.”

Babcock is impressed with the Red Wings’ defensive effort.

“They’re playing real well defensively,” Babcock said. “They’re not scoring, but they’re playing real well defensively and they’re competing hard.”

Ice chips

Andreas Athanasiou hasn’t registered a point in six games, and has one goal in his last 11 games.

“He was real good the other night (Thursday, 1-0 loss to Washington),” Blashill said. “He was dangerous on pucks, he was one of the guys that created (offense).

“Again, I just think when he works and competes on a consistent basis, he’s a real good player. But you have to work and compete to have the puck, and that’s the biggest key.”

… The Red Wings have lost 12 one-goal games in regulation time, 23 total (11 in overtime-shootout), which could be construed as an indication they’re not far away from being a contending team.

“They’re still losses and we’re finding ways to be on the wrong side of it,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Instead of finding ways to win games, as the season winds down, we have to continue to work hard and continue to work together and find ways to come out on top.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tkulfan

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