WASHINGTON — Anthony Mantha smiled at the suggestion that he might get off to a good start to his season because of his new father’s strength.
Mantha and his fiancé Caitlyn Duffy welcomed their first child, daughter Naomie Mae Mantha, on October 4. The forward has since scored two goals in the Washington Capitals’ first three games, including the winner in their 3-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
“I think it’s a new strength,” Mantha said. “Ten days old.”
Mantha’s goal Saturday was decisive, breaking a 1-1 tie 11:43 into the second period to help the Capitals (1-2-0) get their first win of the season after losing their first two games. Mantha curled into the right circle to receive a pass from Yevgeny Kuznetsov out of the right corner and snapped a shot that went in off the right arm of the Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault.
It was the second of three unanswered goals Washington scored after falling behind.
“My goal was to have a good year, and of course not [struggling] a few games and kind of trying to find your game,” Mantha said. “I had a slow start [Saturday] first period and I just had to wake up in the second and third and I think I helped the team win.”
Washington, which will look to extend its record when it hosts the Vancouver Canucks at Capital One Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; CITY, SNP, NBCSWA, ESPN+, SN NOW), could use more of that from Mantha throughout the season. With Tom Wilson (torn anterior cruciate ligament in left knee) is expected to be out at least until December and Nicklas Backstrøm (left hip resurfacing surgery) out indefinitely, the Capitals need other forwards to pick up the scoring, and Mantha is one of the top candidates.
Selected with the No. 20 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, Mantha has twice topped 20 goals in his seven seasons in the league, including an NHL career-high 25 in 2018-19.
Able to play on either wing, Mantha is most effective when he uses his skating and 6-foot-5, 234-pound frame to open up space for himself and his linemates. On his goal Saturday, he used his speed, body positioning and quick hands to avoid the attempted stick check from the Canadiens forward. Cole Caufield and get rid of his shot. His size and strength were also evident during a late puck battle with the defenseman Kaiden Guhle behind the Montreal net leading to a game.
“We need him to go and move and bring pucks to the net like he did wiggling into the areas,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He got more physical as the game went on and that was good.”
Mantha’s biggest problem has been staying healthy. He played an NHL career-high 80 regular-season games in 2017-18, posting an NHL career-high 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists), but has yet to play in a full 82 regular-season games. He had 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) in 67 games in 2018-19 despite missing a month with a hand injury. He dropped to 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 2019-20 as he was limited to 43 games due to a right shoulder injury.
Although Mantha did not miss a game in 2020–21, which was shortened to 56 games due to the coronavirus pandemic, that season was broken up for him by the April 12, 2021 trade that sent him from the Red Wings to the Capitals. He totaled 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) that season, including eight (four goals, four assists) in 14 games with Washington.
Mantha had 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 37 games last season when he missed nearly four months and 45 games while recovering from Nov. 5 left shoulder surgery. That left him determined to stay in the lineup this season.
“I feel like I start every year healthy, but I guess that’s just bad luck,” Mantha said. “Hopefully this year I stay healthy and play all 82 games.”
That is also the hope of the Capitals. Trying to spark the offense after it was limited to two goals in each of the first to games, Laviolette mixed up Washington’s line combinations Saturday, including switching Mantha from right wing to left wing on a line with Kuznetsov at center and TJ Oshie on the right wing.
The move had the desired effect, with Kuznetsov getting his first point of the season, an assist on Mantha’s goal, and Oshie also assisting on Mantha’s goal and scoring a power-play goal.
“‘Mo,’ he’s such a presence on the ice,” Oshie said. “If he stays healthy, I expect him to be quite a bit on the score sheet. He’s a big player for our team and really helps us have some size up front with Tommy out of the lineup for a little bit, helps us skill-wise with Nick to be out a little bit. He’s a big part of our team and when he’s healthy, he goes after us.”