Anthony Mantha might return as Red Wings head to Montreal
Detroit — The Red Wings finally won a game Thursday, which was reason enough for the team to be overjoyed.
After all, they’d lost 12 consecutive games.
But Friday’s practice had a bit more zip to it because of the available bodies suddenly at the Wings’ disposal.
Coach Jeff Blashill was optimistic about both Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou playing Saturday in Montreal, which would give a jolt to the Wings’ anemic offense.
But particularly Mantha’s return — he’s been gone for three weeks, while Athanasiou only has missed two games — is impactful.
“I wouldn’t be saying I was ready to go if I wasn’t,” said Mantha, whose 12 goals still lead after the team despite Mantha missing eight games. “I feel perfectly fine. The results (of tests) are good. I did off-ice testing and everything was good.
“I don’t see a reason why I wouldn’t be in except we’re starting two-in-two (games, days).”
The Wings can certainly use Mantha’s offense, and presence on the ice. They’ve gone 1-7-0 without him, the victory coming Thursday against Winnipeg, ending that 12-game winless streak.
“Seeing the guys in that mood day-in, day-out, it’s not easy being able to do nothing, so I tried to stay positive,” Mantha said.
“The win feels good. Hopefully we can get a streak going.”
Both Mantha, who suffered a knee injury Nov. 23 in New Jersey, and Blashill indicated the final call would be general manager Steve Yzerman’s as to whether Mantha would get to play Saturday.
“We just want to make sure we’re putting him (Mantha) in the right position,” Blashill said. “Certainly he’s tested it and he feels good about it. I anticipate he’ll play. But until I chat with Steve, I just want to make sure.”
The origina timetable was three to six weeks for Mantha’s return. When he found that out, he began aiming for the three part of that, plus the fact Saturday’s game is in Montreal, Mantha’s hometown and a place he’s traditionally has played well.
“You don’t necessarily love putting him in back-to-back (games) but we’ve had so many guys out, you just love the fact he wants to play,” Blashill said. “Obviously it’s Montreal, I get it. If he’s sore, we’ll be precautionary. If Anthony is healthy, we welcome him back, he’s a big piece of our team.”
Blashill had Mantha on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Filip Zadina.
“It just gives us more depth and firepower,” Blashill said.
Athanasiou has had an undisclosed injury which kept him out of the two games against Winnipeg. But he took part in Thursday’s morning skate, and Friday’s full practice, and appears fit to play.
OK, it’s not an entirely healthy roster right now, primarly because of the defense.
Jonathan Ericsson was injured in Thursday’s game, and doesn’t look ready to go against Montreal, and Patrik Nemeth (ill) didn’t practice Friday.
So the Wings called up defenseman Madison Bowey — who they just waived earlier in the week — for reinforcement.
Robby Fabbri’s two goals Thursday were a big reason for the victory, but an underlying reason was Fabbri’s ability to get under the skin of the Jets’ players. Fabbri knows the Jets well from his days in St. Louis, and those intense divisional games.
When the games are as physical, said Fabbri, as they were Thursday, it makes him a better player.
“I’m competitive, I play tenacious, that’s when I’m at my best,” Fabbri said. “When I’m not, I feel like I’m not as in the game. Sometimes getting a few hits or in a little scrum like that gets me in the game.”
Dylan Larkin also didn’t practice Friday, but that was more about playing Thursday through an illness.
The Wings weren’t sure Larkin would be ready — he didn’t take part in the morning skate — but Larkin persevered and played nearly 20 minutes while helping the Wings to a much-needed victory.
“He was not feeling well at all and I texted with him (Thursday) afternoon and he said ‘I’m planning on playing for sure’,” Blashill said. “It says a lot about his character. He went out and I tried to manage his ice time early, but as it went along, you could tell that he definitely had energy and he looked real good.”
Red Wings at Canadiens
Faceoff: 7 Saturday, Bell Centre, Montreal
TV/radio: NHL Network, CBC/97.1
Outlook: The Canadiens (15-11-6) have won three consecutive games, after having lost eight in a row…Veterans RW Brendan Gallagher (14 goals), D Shea Weber (16 assists, 26 points) and G Carey Price (13-9-3, .905 SVS) lead the way.