Mantha's return provided much-needed boost


For nearly everything the Capitals have gone through this season both good and bad, there hasn’t been anything Anthony Mantha could do except watch. 

Mantha underwent shoulder surgery in November and the original prognosis had him missing anywhere from four-to-six months of game action. Without Mantha in the lineup, the Capitals had their lineup thrown into flux as T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and a few others suffered from both injury and COVID absences. 

But 119 days after his operation, Mantha returned back to the lineup and to the top six in a dominating 4-0 win over the Hurricanes at Capital One Arena on Thursday. 

There was a lot to like about the Capitals’ game against one of the league’s best teams, and aided by the addition of Mantha, it’s as good as they’ve felt in a long time. 

“Mentally felt awesome,” Mantha said. “It was a long four months, little over four months, so just getting ready for a game felt good. Then stepping on the ice for warmups, you see the fans for the first time in quite some time. It was awesome. Physically, I think it went pretty well. Obviously a little bit of fatigue at the end there, but (it’s) to be expected. Thought the game in general went pretty good too.”

Mantha played 16:23 and tallied one shot on goal, but the line of Mantha, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie was a positive line both in possession and performance for the Capitals. 


At five-on-five, his line out-attempted the Hurricanes 9-7 and, until the third period, was in control of the shot quality, too. 

“I thought the line was really good,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “All three of them, they were smart with the puck, they made good decisions, they found themselves in the offensive zone quite a bit and then they're three talented players and they were able to generate chances from that.”

More than just the addition of what the Capitals hope will be a legitimate top six scorer, though, the Capitals will be able to balance out the remainder of their lineup with Mantha in the top six — assuming everyone stays healthy. 

Notably, third-line center Lars Eller has had a rotating cast of wingers throughout the year due to the injuries. Now, as general manager Brian MacLellan alluded to Wednesday, they’re hopeful the middle six will be able to carve out an identity with more stable roles. 

“He has looked really strong and really good in the conditioning skates and the practices prior to the game tonight,” Laviolette said of Mantha. “You've got to give our training staff a ton of credit, you've got to give our strength coach Mark Nemish a ton of credit. Nemo did an unbelievable job, Serbs did an unbelievable job of just making sure that he's ready to play. And then, you do all that, and you've got to release it to the team. He looked really good, he was ready.”

No matter how ready Mantha was to play, though, there’ll still be a bit of an adjustment for both himself and for the second line. The trio of Mantha, Backstrom and Oshie have played in just 56 games so far this season combined — the same number of games the Capitals have played as a team. 

“Maybe it didn’t look like it but it felt like it,” Mantha joked of coming back seamlessly. “Unfortunately I’ve been injured a couple times in my career. The longest was about nine weeks before that so we’re double past that injury and at that time I thought that was a long one. It was just stick with it obviously and focus on getting back as soon as possible to help this team win.”

While Thursday’s strong game against a divisional rival was one of their best performances of the season, Mantha’s return certainly won’t be the main reason if the Capitals can turn around their poor play since 2022 began. 

But they're hopeful it’ll help.