Washington Capitals forward Anthony Mantha entered the 2023-24 season after a summer full of trade rumors suggested he might not return to DC this fall. Months later, all of those rumblings have quieted down and Mantha is a regular in the team’s lineup again.
After a slow start to the year, the big winger appeared to be finding his game recently before a scary injury via puck to the head ruptured his eardrum and took him out of action for over a week. Mantha returned from that injury on Saturday night and helped the Capitals down the Columbus Blue Jackets with a game-high six shots on goal.
Head coach Spencer Carbery raved postgame about how Mantha’s upward trajectory appeared unaffected by the injury. The rookie bench boss also pointed out a specific play showing Mantha’s direct response to specific one-on-one coaching moments.
“I thought he picked up right where he left off from coming out of the lineup,” Carbery said. “He had some momentum in his season going and then he gets hit with the puck in the ear. Thankfully, it was only just a handful of games that he missed but you sometimes worry if it’s going to take him a little bit to get back up and running and playing at the level. I thought he picked up right where he left off.”
In the same game that Mantha got injured, the 29-year-old Quebec native scored two goals to double his season total. He then missed three games to recover from his injury and jumped right back into the Capitals’ top-six forward group on Saturday.
While he didn’t score another two goals against Columbus, Mantha remained a noticeably positive present on the ice for many of his shifts. One particular play had Carbery thrilled and beaming when discussing it postgame.
“The play that sticks out for me, which I love because we’ve talked to him about it and it just shows his commitment, is the track on Provorov,” Carbery said. “When Provorov has a step on him and [Mantha’s] just working, he’s under his stick, he’s trying, and he ends up turning that puck over and gets a half breakaway. He doesn’t score on it but that for me is just so emblematic of what he’s putting in right now and to be rewarded for that, that’s what I love to see. He’s working defensively, working in good spots, tracks there, and then gets rewarded offensively for it. Doesn’t score but it’s a great opportunity for him to score and he did a ton of other good things.”
— Capitals Replays (@capsreplays) November 19, 2023
Mantha’s positive response to Carbery’s coaching is refreshing after last season saw him at his lowest and healthy scratched by then-head coach Peter Laviolette. Mantha even hired a mental coach after sitting out under Laviolette in an attempt to try and regain some of what he had lost.
“Being scratched is a hard hit in the face,” Mantha said last April. “You come back and you try to get things going and get the confidence and sometimes it’s way harder than people can imagine.
“Putting extra pressure on yourself, putting extra details, and then you go out there and you’re actually thinking more than you were before. It just takes a toll on your confidence when it happens once and then after that you’re just looking for your game that’s maybe not present.”
Though he was healthy-scratched again this season for the Caps’ second game of the campaign, this time the move was a one-off and Mantha has stayed in the lineup (when healthy) since then.
Among all regular Capitals players this season, the team sees an above 50 percent high-danger chance for percentage on the ice with just four players on the ice. Mantha is one of those four, and will now look to add more boxcar stats (goals, assists, points, etc.) to his resume moving forward.
He’ll get his next chance at that on Wednesday when the Buffalo Sabres come to town. The Sabres are one of the teams that Mantha has produced most against in his career, tallying 14 points (5g, 9a) in 19 career games.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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