Capitals

Mantha makes a strong first impression in Capitals debut

Capitals
Anthony Mantha

On Monday, a Capitals team in first place in the East Division and with Stanley Cup aspirations made a big trade for Anthony Mantha. General manager Brian MacLellan made it clear he felt Mantha could be a major contributor for the team right away and that his addition made the roster stronger for the playoff run. A move like that puts a lot of pressure on a player to perform, but Mantha certainly delivered Tuesday in his Capitals debut.

Mantha recorded a goal, an assist and six shots on goal Tuesday in a 6-1 win over the Philadephia Flyers and showed exactly why Brian MacLellan felt his addition would make the team better.

Mantha was in the midst of an underwhelming season in Detroit, but stepped onto a line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie on Tuesday and made a strong first impression with his new team.

"I thought he was in the mix of the play all night," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought he did a great job on the wall with getting pucks out. I thought he had good chemistry with his linemates, generated five or six shots on net, their line generated a lot of chances, a lot of shots, a lot of opportunities."

At 6-foot-5, it can be easy to mistake Mantha as a bruising type of physical forward, but the primary attribute of Mantha's game is his skill. That was on display early on as he got behind the defense and managed to corral a bouncing puck and pull off a nimble move to wheel around and get an opportunity off against Flyers goalie Brian Elliott.

 

"He's got like a complete package going on," said Nick Jensen who played with Mantha in Detroit. "Big, strong, fast and, you saw it tonight, he's got a great shot. That's something that's really important with big plays. He's got a lot of skill too. Most people think big, strong, it's more about the physical game, but you can't underestimate the amount of skill he has."

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Mantha recorded a secondary assist on Tom Wilson's power play goal midway through the first for his first point as a Capital. Mantha said that early assist helped calm his nerves.

"It was huge, personally, just to get my focus back and kind of slow things down for me a little bit and just play my game," Mantha said.

Nerves certainly did not appear to be an issue the rest of the game as Mantha fired a game-high six shots on goal and found the back of the net in the second period.

Mantha took a drop-pass from Oshie in the offensive zone and cut to the middle. He was well defended as he cocked for a wrist shot, but instead cradled the puck again, took an extra step and then wristed the puck into the net. The extra move threw off both the defenseman and Elliott and resulted in the goal.

"Quick up in the neutral zone," Mantha said. "I knew we had an odd-man rush so when the puck, it got dropped, I faked a shot and then just took it wide and just tried shooting it as hard as I could."

"His release is really good," Laviolette said. "His stick is long, it gets him out of situations both defensively and offensively just because of his reach."

Mantha was also robbed of a second goal in the third period as Elliott snagged a shot with the glove after Mantha weaved his way through defenseman Justin Braun to take the puck on net.

It is no secret that the Caps are all-in on a Cup run this season. Mantha was not a depth deadline add brought in just to bolster the roster, he was seen as a major addition worth the hefty price tag it took to get him. That means the pressure was on immediately for him to produce and he admitted to feeling that pressure.

"Obviously when a team comes to get you, you want to look the best you can," Mantha said, "And I think tonight was just a step forward for myself and kind of calmed the nerves a little bit."

But if Tuesday's game is any indication, Mantha could prove to be a major asset to a team already hovering around the top of the league standings.

 

It's just one game, but it was a heck of a debut for Mantha.

"For coming in here the way he did and meeting everyone for the first time is always a little bit challenging and you never know what's going to happen," Laviolette said, "I thought he played a pretty good game."