Wings' Anthony Mantha returns to lineup after catching wrath of coaching staff
Anthony Mantha returned to the Red Wings’ lineup Tuesday night against Florida — but, maybe, only, because someone else was hurt.
Coach Jeff Blashill wasn’t saying earlier in the day, but Mantha was in the Wings' projected lineup.
Still, clearly, Blashill will be expecting a certain level of performance out of Mantha when Mantha does get back into the lineup.
Mantha's return to the lineup was helped along when forward Luke Glendening (upper body) was declared unavailable by Blashill after the morning skate.
Mantha has caught Blashill’s wrath at various times in his young career for not moving fast enough on the ice, and Mantha was a healthy scratch in Sunday’s victory in Florida.
Blashill wouldn’t get totally into what his conversations with Mantha have been like, but it was clear enough.
“I’ve had conversations with Anthony, and as I’ve said to you guys, ultimately, when Anthony skates he’s a great player, and when he doesn’t skate, he’s not as good,” Blashill said on a Zoom call with media after Tuesday’s morning skate. “He has to make sure as a player he’s just continuing to bend those knees and move his feet.”
Blashill has daily conversations with general manager Steve Yzerman, and has kept Yzerman updated on daily lineups, and obviously, the situation with Mantha.
"I would just say I talk to Steve on a regular basis, pretty much every day, about a lot of things including our lineup and players," Blashill said. "I don't want to go a whole bunch further than that, but I have a conversation with Steve about a lot of things every day."
Mantha, 26, a restricted free agent last summer, signed a four-year contract worth $22.8 million ($5.7-million salary cap hit) last summer. Expectations were high for the power forward coming into this season, as Mantha was firmly anointed as a big piece of the Wings’ rebuild going forward.
But Mantha was bumped down from the Wings’ top line within the first week of the season, and was benched in a nationally televised game after two consecutive poor defensive plays. In 12 games, Mantha has four goals and three assists, with a team-worst minus-8 plus-minus rating.
Mantha had scored goals in three consecutive games, before not scoring Friday in Tampa. But his minutes dwindled down to around 14 minutes in both games in Tampa, and the improved offense wasn't enough to take away from other shortcomings.
Glendening left the first period of Sunday's game when he was hit around the head area by Florida defenseman Radko Gudas. The Wings announced Glendening would not return with an upper body injury, and Glendening wasn't able to return Tuesday.
There was speculation Gudas would be hearing from the NHL regarding the hit, but there was no suspension or fine or any kind.
Regarding the hit, the Wings felt there was nothing illegal.
"Glenny thought, and I thought, it was a clean hit, totally clean hit," Blashill said.
One of the keys for the Wings in the past few games has been the return of defenseman Jon Merrill from COVID-19 protocol, and his return to the lineup.
Blashill said Merrill strengthens the Wings' lineup in a variety of ways.
"Jon Merrill is a big piece, he's come in and done a real good job on our defense core," Blashill said. "He's a really calm person, and his calmness has helped our team. He has a quiet confidence to him and his play is solid. He's a guy who, and it was almost a knock against him early (in Merrill's career), that he didn't do anything great but did everything pretty well.
"But that's what you like out of your defensemen, to do all things pretty well and he does that. He helps our penalty kill, power play, 5-on-5 in different roles, he's there at the end of games because he's a big guy who has poise and confidence with the puck, and when he makes a mistake it doesn't fluster him and that's an important lesson for the rest of our team."
Blashill said forward Tyler Bertuzzi (upper body) won't return for the games in Nashville this weekend. There was mild hope he would be able to, but Blashill squashed any chance of that. Bertuzzi has missed the last four games.
... Goaltender Jonathan Bernier (upper body) practiced Tuesday, and is close to returning, Blashill said. Bernier has been unavailable the last five games.
.. .Getting five regulars back from COVID019 protocol last week has made the Wings a deeper and better team, Blashill said.
"Without a doubt we were shorthanded for a bit," Blashill said. "When you're shorthanded, you need guys to play at an elite level and we probably didn't get enough of that every night. Now, you just have more guys to depend on a little bit."