Red Wings' Anthony Mantha answers bell against Flyers, with fists and stick
Detroit — Anthony Mantha didn’t necessarily want to do it, but he knew he’d have to.
Mantha crosschecked Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux during Saturday’s game — Giroux was lucky to escape injury — and the Flyers were intent on making Mantha pay Sunday night.
Mantha knew he’d have to fight. It’s hockey code. He was ready.
“Obviously I didn’t want to, I’ll be honest,” Mantha said. “But I step up for myself. The hit was kind of a weird hit (Saturday). I knew I was going need to step up.”
Philadelphia’s rugged Wayne Simmonds, one of the respected players around the league for his leadership and grit, drew Mantha’s attention before the game.
“He told me right before the anthem he wanted me, so I said ‘Let’s get it over with,’ and play some hockey,” said Mantha, who fought Simmonds 53 seconds into Sunday’s game. “He goes, ‘I hope you’re going to be a man.’ That’s pretty much it. I said ‘Am I going to gain your respect?’
“And he said, ‘Yeah.’
“Obviously he’s a tough customer. I did watch a couple of clips. He always switches to lefty (left-handed), so I was trying to hold on to that left.”
One thing Mantha, and the Red Wings, were cognizant about was Mantha’s right hand, which suffered a torn ligament in December after a fight with Colorado’s Patrik Nemeth.
“The hand did come to mind,” said Mantha, who twice in his career has hurt his hand in a fight. “I guess the doctor did a good job.”
Though not thrilled about Mantha fighting so soon after the previous hand injury, coach Jeff Blashill understood Mantha’s situation.
“One thing about Mo that people don’t understand, he’s a real tough person and he understands these situations, and he felt like he needed to answer it,” Blashill said. “We didn’t speak out about it. I would have probably told him not to, well, not probably, I would have told him not to given that he hurt his hand earlier in the year, but he knows how to handle himself.
“He did a good job handling himself.”
If you're scoring the fight, Simmonds won. But Mantha earned respect, and going forward in the game, Mantha earned credit for his game, arguably playing one of his best games of the season.
Mantha had a game-high seven shots, had several quality chances that Flyers goalie Carter Hart turned aside, and had an impact on all ends of the ice.
“He was the best player on the ice for both teams,” said Blashill, who watched Mantha score two late goals Saturday, enabling the Wings to force overtime. “He was excellent. It didn’t show up on the scoresheet, he was the best player on the ice for most of the game.”
Mantha played at a high level upon returning from the hand injury in January, but dropped shortly after and went nine games without a goal before scoring Saturday.
“When he skates, he’s real good,” Blashill said. “When he kinds of drifts, he’s still able to make stick-on-puck plays and do enough stuff, but it’s hard for his teammates to know what he’s doing when he’s drifting.
“He just needs to keep building on games like (Sunday). He was excellent.”
Now with 14 goals, Mantha has 22 games left on the schedule to reach — at minimum — the 20-goal milestone.
“I’ve been playing pretty good hockey lately,” Mantha said. “I just need to find that extra little touch to put it in the back of the net.”
Hronek for Ericsson
Blashill did get defenseman Filip Hronek into the lineup Sunday, as Blashill said he would, after Hronek was promoted Saturday from Grand Rapids.
Hronek replaced Jonathan Ericsson in the lineup, after Ericsson struggled in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Flyers.
“E, for me, was the worst of the six (defensemen) there last night; I didn’t think our defense was great (Saturday),” Blashill said. “For me, he struggled, and I think he knew that. Fil is here to play. It doesn’t mean if Fil doesn’t play good at some point you have to do something about it, but he’s here to play.
“We called him up here to pay and someone’s going to be out, and tonight it was E, and I would anticipate a similar lineup on Wednesday. Most of our defensemen played pretty good.”
Hronek played just over 14 minutes (14:18), with one shot and a minus-1 rating.
“He was good,” Blashill said. “I like Fil. We sent Fil down earlier in the year, he didn’t have a great camp, he needed to get better at things and he’s gotten better.
“He’s strong, he seals, he creates stalls in the defensive zone, and he can create offense.”
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier (neck) had to be replaced by Jimmy Howard after one period Sunday, but Blashill said he didn’t believe the injury was serious. Blashill expects Bernier to be available Wednesday, if necessary.
…Gustav Nyquist missed Sunday’s game because of flu-like symptoms, but is expected to be ready for practice Tuesday.