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Mantha's penalty killing, scoring highlights Wings' scrimmage

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – The big takeaway from Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage?

It was a heck of an evening for Anthony Mantha, in a lot of ways.

The big winger scored two goals – including a shorthanded goal – as his Team Red defeated Team White 7-2.

Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi both scored two goals, and Dylan Larkin had several assists (no official stat keeping in this scrimmage), as the top line dominated.

But with Mantha, the goal scoring isn’t surprising, and the Wings are hoping Mantha keeps that part going and improving upon in the years ahead.

But the penalty killing is something new, coach Jeff Blashill wanting to utilize Mantha’s size and reach and forming a potentially dangerous duo with Larkin.

Marc Staal, left, ties up Tyler Bertuzzi during Team Red's 7-2 win over Team White in a scrimmage on Friday at the Belfor Training Center.

Mantha hasn't killed penalties since his final year of junior hockey. The chance of added ice time and responsibility, though, excites him.

"So far in the scrimmages and practices, it has gone well," Mantha said. "There are a couple of things I need to work on. It's something i can work on both with the coaches and teammates.

"Hopefully it pays off."

Individual games are often decided simply on specialty teams, and Blashill wants to put his best players in those situations as much as possible.

Getting Mantha on the penalty kill adds strength to that department.

"Anthony has grown a lot as a player, and he continues to grow," Blashill said. "Defensively, he has a long stick and he finds way to not give up chances. He's learning (penalty killing), and we'll keep watching."

The possibilities of what Mantha could do were right there on the ice to see in the first period.

Larkin gained possession on the puck near the opposite the blue line, and suddenly Larkin and Mantha were staring at a 2-on-1 break.

Larkin carried the puck in and timed a perfect pass to Mantha on the opposite flank, Mantha blasting a one-timer past goaltender Team White goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

Mantha’s quick release was also evident on his first goal.

Bertuzzi found Mantha near the dot, and Mantha snapped a shot past Bernier, opening the scoring.

The effectiveness of the Larkin line, and the tone they set, made for a successful and energetic scrimmage - something Tuesday's scrimmage lacked at times.

"We definitely saw it tonight (more intensity), the habits were more with what you need to have to play real games," Blashill said. "The intensity was higher. We skated harder, and it was driven by Mantha, Larkin and Bertuzzi, and they have to be the guys who drive the bus - and they did.

"The intensity was real good and it helps us advance and gets us better and puts in better position to play that first game (Thursday against Carolina)."

Bertuzzi (two goals), Filip Hronek, Joe Hicketts and Filip Zadina added goals for Team Red.

Mantha also made a good defensive play, picking off a pass at the blue line, while killing a penalty third period.

Getting an opportunity for more ice time, with the penalty killing, is also something relishes.

“You look at Larkin last  year, he would play 20, 22 minutes per night,” Mantha said. “It would be added responsibility, and I’m willing to do it. Hopefully I can get the job done.”

Taro Hirose and Frans Nielsen scored for Team White.

Unfit to play

No Bobby Ryan in the scrimmage, as the veteran forward joined forwards Darren Helm and Evgeny Svechnikov, all as unfit to play.

With the regular season opener Thursday, it doesn't give much runway for the players to get back up to speed and be ready.

Blashill acknowledged it'll be a topic around the NHL all season.

"There's not much runway, and when you miss games, you'll miss a lot of games if you miss a period of time," Blashill said. "That's where depth is important. We'll need a lot of guys to be ready to make an impact. We're not alone in that. It's around the league."

New reality

The news earlier in the day that the Dallas Stars were hit hard by the coronavirus and may need to reschedule early-season games, and several other teams dealing with potential COVID issues, just shows how tricky this NHL season could be.

"It's going to be hard, you never know where you can catch COVID," Mantha said. "We're a week away from starting the season. For me personally, I'm trying to stay away from anyone who could be (around it). If it comes into the room it can spread real quick. 

"It's just the life we live in this season."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan