Red Wings want balance between Mantha's fighting, holding back

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Boston — It’s a delicate balance, for sure.

The Red Wings don’t want to take away Anthony Mantha’s desire to stick up for teammates. But at the same time, they want him to be careful.

Mantha returned this week from a punctured lung, which he sustained while getting into a fight Dec. 21 with Toronto’s Jake Muzzin.

Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (37) and Detroit Red Wings' Anthony Mantha (39) battle for the puck during the third period.

Mantha didn’t like Muzzin’s hit on teammate Madison Bowey, which led Mantha to confront Muzzin who, arguably, slewfooted Mantha to the ice.

It was the third time Mantha has gotten hurt while standing up for a teammate.

The Wings aren’t telling Mantha to stop with the fighting — but do want him to be cautious.

“I’ve said this a lot, we’ve run across this a couple times where certainly in his case, he’s been hurt looking after himself, looking after his teammates,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It’s a fine line. I don’t want a locker room full of guys who don’t look after each other — that’s no good.

“But I also think you have to be super measured, especially with him in his approach in those situations.”

Mantha’s loss from the Wings’ lineup is always a factor, being that he’s one of the team’s best offensive players — on a roster that simply doesn’t have many of them.

Mantha had a team-high four shots on net in Saturday’s 4-1 loss in Boston, while playing 18 minutes 30 seconds.

“We can’t afford to have him continuously be out of the lineup,” Blashill said. “He’s got to be real smart about that. He’s the one on the ice and he has to make decisions in real time. He just has to be real smart about that.”

Bernie rolls on

Goaltender Jonathan Bernier has arguably been the Wings’ best player in recent weeks.

You could certainly make that statement Saturday, as Bernier turned aside 40 shots — including 18 in a spotless first period — during the 4-1 loss.

“Bernie was great tonight,” forward Luke Glendening said. “It’s the same every night. He’s been playing outstanding. He kept us in the game. We were fortunate it was only 4-1, because of all the saves he made.”

The Wings have won two games in the last 15, and it’s been Bernier who has been in net for both of them.

Bernier has 12 of the team’s 14 victories this season, and has solidified himself as the No. 1 goalie.

“You have to focus on your own job, you can’t let three or four losses in a row get to you,” Bernier said. “Keep working hard, and give your team the best chance to win a hockey game.”

East Coast travel

Blashill had an interesting opinion recently on the Wings playing in the Eastern Conference.

The Wings moved back to the East for the 2013-14 season, and the move has generally been applauded by fans, organization, and the media.

Still, there are some logistical issues for the Wings in the travel department.

“One of the disadvantages of being in the East for us, if you talk to guys who’ve been in both conferences (Blashill mentioned Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall), it’s we're the furthest west team in the East, but we aren’t far enough away where we get a lot of these trips where you stay on the road,” Blashill said. “So, we get a lot of one and dones, back and forth, and get in our beds at 3, 3:30 in the morning by the time you fall asleep.

“That can take a toll on you.”

Big, bad Bruins

Boston leads the NHL with 84 points, which doesn't surprise Blashill.

“They have a bunch of really good two-way players,” Blashill said of Boston’s commitment to offense and defense. “If you look at their centers, up the middle, they’re real good up the middle, real good two-way, what I call winning hockey players.

“You have super dynamic wingers on that top line with (David) Pastrnak and (Brad) Marchand. I watched the game the other night and they make something out of nothing, and there are few players in the league who can do that.

“Their defense corps is built well, they have size, skill, a puck mover, a defender. Then you take all that and you have a great goalie (Tuukka Rask), so you’re going to earn lots of points with that."

Ice chips

The Wings lost defenseman Trevor Daley to an upper-body injury. Daley only played 8:28 on 11 shifts. Blashill had no update on Daley after the game, but Madison Bowey was likely to replace Daley in the lineup Sunday.

… Mike Green played in his 300th game as as Red Wing.

… The 12 short-handed goals the Wings have allowed are most in the NHL. Edmonton is next with 10 short-handed goals allowed.

Red Wings at Penguins

Faceoff: 12:30 p.m., Sunday,  PPG Paints Arena.

TV/radio: NBC/97.1

Outlook: The Penguins (35-15-6) have closed to within 3 points of division-leading Washington and are 20-5-4 at home. … C Evgeni Malkin (40 assists, 58 points) and Troy native RW Bryan Rust (22 goals) lead a deep offensive attack.

Twitter: @tkulfan