Detroit — Just like his team, Anthony Mantha didn’t have a great start to this season.
As the Red Wings were winning just one of their first 10 games in October, Mantha had just one goal in the season’s first 10 games.
But Mantha, and the Wings, have turned things around.
The Wings roared back to the .500 mark — until losing the last three games.
As for Mantha, he’s looked more like the goal scorer the Wings have envisioned, and desperately need him to be.
After scoring two goals in Monday’s 7-5 loss to Columbus, Mantha has nine goals — one behind team leader Andreas Athanasiou — and six in the last eight games. Mantha is also plus-7 in those eight games, and Monday had a career-high 10 shots on net.
“I just looked at it, 10 shots, so obviously that’s a positive,” Mantha said after Monday’s game. “I wnaat to build off that and I want to keep going for sure.”
Mantha’s resurgence has coincided with the coaching staff reuniting Mantha on Dylan Larkin’s line, and also the staff’s consistent urging of Mantha to shoot the puck.
“He has an elite wrist shot, it’s elite,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “When he sees it going in the net, noting reinforces it like that. You can have coaches and players telling you to shoot it, but when it goes in the net, you’re going to do it more.”
As that October slump continued for Mantha, Blashill moved him to a checking line in an effort to snap Mantha out of his malaise.
Since reuniting Mantha with Larkin against Dallas on Oct. 28, Mantha has thrived and the Wings began their streak to respectability.
“Mo has been skating real good, and him and Larks … this is the best I’ve seen them together,” Blashill said. “We’ve tried it at different times and it’s been OK. But they’re really starting to build some chemistry together, and they’ve been dynamic.
“This, to me, has been the best stretch of games where they’ve played together.
“(Mantha) has played at a real high level since about that Dallas game.
"He’s getting rewarded on a regular basis, and as an offensive player, it makes you feel better about yourself.”
In the past, when Mantha has struggled and remained stationary on the ice rather than consistently moving, Blashill has taken to scratching Mantha or limiting ice time.
Blashill didn’t necessarily do that in October. Blashill feels he might be learning different ways to get Mantha engaged and feeling good about himself.
“Maybe I’m learning him better, too,” Blashill said. “In the end, he wants to be real good. Sometimes players need a kick in the butt and sometimes they need confidence, and it’s easy to just say you’re going to use the stick, but the stick doesn’t always work. Sometimes they need a pat and encouragement.
“It takes different things at different times. He got a point where he was down about his own play. He worked through it.
"We had a good conversation before the Dallas game and challenged him a little bit putting him back with Larkin, and they’ve been real good since.”
It’s interesting that forwards Gustav Nyquist and Frans Nielsen lead the Wings with 14 assists — but it’s fair to say both could be having better seasons.
Nyquist scored only his third goal of the season Monday, ending an eight-game drought — he had scored one goal in the last 15 games — which gives the Wings hope maybe Nyquist can get on a goal-scoring binge.
“He can score at a rate much greater than he’s scoring right now,” Blashill said of Nyquist. “He’s always been a playmaker, but he can score at a greater rate than he has been. Hopefully he can heat up here a bit. The more guys that are scoring, the better.”
Blashill talked with Nyquist about “hounding the puck on the forecheck and that’s an area that he’ll keep working at. He’s played pretty good hockey.”
Nielsen has yet to score a goal this season, but since returning after missing four games in concussion protocol, Nielsen has been impactful.
“Since he’s come back, he’s been real good,” Blashill said. “He went through a stretch where he wasn’t playing good hockey. But he’s another guys who is self accountable, he recoginzed that, and he’s been way better lately, more confident with the puck.
“I don’t know why the goals haven’t been there, but he’s made a pretty good impact on a consistent basis.”
The Blues (8-11-3, 19 points) are at the bottom of the powerful Central Division, have made a head coaching change, and have played below expectations.
The start of this season hasn’t gone the way St. Louis would have expected.
“Every division is tough, the league is tough,” Blashill said. “They’re right there with a whole bunch of other good teams. You get hot, you find ways to win. If you’re not, you find ways to lose and you see both streaks going both ways.
“It’s early in the year. Everyone uses Thanksgiving (as a standings barometer) but that’s a little out-dated. It’s going to get tighter and tighter as teams get closer.”
... Blashill didn’t disclose his decision on the defensive lineup for Wednesday’s game against St. Louis. Jonathan Ericsson has been a healthy scratch for two games since being cleared to resume playing, as Blashill has stayed with the current six defensemen.
Blues at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7 Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Blues (8-11-3, 19 points) have won four of their last 10 games. … They’re coming off Saturday’s 8-4 loss to Winnipeg. … C Ryan O’Reilly (12 goals, 26 points) has been a fine trade acquisition but the goaltenders, Jake Allen (3.27 GAA, .896 SVS) and Chad Johnson (3.12 GAA, .895 SVS), have struggled.