Detroit – What has been already a difficult season for the Detroit Red Wings is about to get a little more challenging.
Coach Jeff Blashill said forward Anthony Mantha will be out a minimum of two weeks with a lower-body injury suffered in Saturday’s loss in New Jersey.
Mantha, the team’s leading goal scorer with 12, appeared to have a knee-on-knee collision in the first period of the game and did not return, also missing Sunday’s loss against Carolina.
“Right now it’ll be at least a couple weeks and we’ll more information as the process goes,” Blashill said. “We don’t anticipate any (surgical) procedures as of today.
“He’s been an offensive threat every game and that part has been really impressive. Are there parts of his game I want to be better? Yes. But he’s been real good in terms of his offensive threat, and that’s great for the long-term look of our organization and his long-term look. In the immediate future, we’ll have to find ways to score without him.”
With this type of injury, Blashill acknowledged Mantha will not be able to skate to maintain conditioning, so that will be a factor, too.
“It’s harder for sure; he won’t be skating any time soon in the next few weeks, so it’s harder than when you have an upper-body (injury) and you can keep your legs (in condition),” Blashill said. “Justin Abdelkader (upper-body injury) is skating real hard right now and he’s been able to keep his legs. But Anthony won’t be able to do that, so it’ll be a process once he gets himself to where he’s closer to being healed and he gets going a little bit.
“Anytime when you miss time it’s hard to hit the ground running (upon returning to the lineup). He’s been playing excellent. His confidence is at a real high. So you’re cautious with your expectations when players come back with longer (term) injuries because the league is not slowing up. It’s ramping up, it gets harder.”
Losing Mantha’s offensive ability, on a team that ranks last in the NHL in offense (2.27 goals per game), is not going to be easy to overcome.
Beyond the line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Mantha, the offensive has been lacking.
“You miss a scorer like that … he’s been our most dynamic offensive player this year without a doubt,” Blashill said. “But there’s other ways to score.”
For the Wings, that means attempting to manufacture offense around the net, scoring those “dirty, greasy” goals that have been too few and far between
“We haven’t been as hard at the other team’s net as we were a year ago,” Blashill said. “A year ago we were better at having a net presence, at getting pucks around the cage – we scored more dirty goals a year ago.
“This year we haven’t been as good. We have to get back at being good at it.”
At Tuesday’s practice, shooting the puck at the net while teammates were battling at the net was emphasized toward the end of the session, making sure to get that mentality in focus.
“We have to make sure we’re on the guys to keep shooting the puck,” Blashill said. “We worked on it, scoring dirty goals around the cage, creating chaos, and that’s the way you can score a lot of goals.
“We have to make sure we dig in.”
For now, Robby Fabbri gets the first shot at replacing Mantha on the line with Bertuzzi and Larkin.
Fabbri’s approach on the ice is somewhat similar to Mantha’s, and Fabbri has played in small sample sizes on the Larkin line – the whole game Sunday against Carolina.
“Fabbri is a good player; there’s a reason he was drafted high (in the first round),” Blashill said. “He’s a good player, he looked like he could be a good fit on the line and get some chemistry going.
“We had put him on that line in previous games when I didn’t like how it was going. We’ll see if stays up there or not.
“Certainly you want guys that fit that similar role. (Filip) Zadina would be another guy, but I didn’t want to give him that right off the bat. That puts a whole bunch of pressure on him right away. We’ll see as we move along.”
Green, Erne close
While Mantha is out, the Wings might get back defenseman Mike Green back in time for Wednesday’s game against Toronto, as well as forward Adam Erne.
Both Green and Erne took part in Tuesday’s practice and were optimistic about returning against the Leafs.
Erne has missed two games after blocking a shot in Saturday’s morning skate, while Green has missed the last three with an undisclosed injury.
The Wings waived defenseman Dylan McIlrath, with Green apparently getting close to a return.
Maple Leafs at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Maple Leafs (11-10-4) have won two consecutive games since replacing Mike Babcock with Sheldon Keefe as head coach. … C Auston Matthews (16 goals, 14 assists) has been an offensive force, while G Frederik Andersen (11-5-3, 2.68 GAA, .916 SVS) has handled the bulk of work in net.