For most seasoned NHL veterans, preseason points do not mean all that much. For Anthony Mantha, however, a player preparing for his seventh season in the NHL, his preseason performance meant a whole heck of a lot.
Mantha scored twice in each of his last two preseason appearances and the relief he felt from finally hitting the back of the net was evident.
"Oh yeah," Mantha said emphatically when asked if it felt good to score in the preseason.
When Mantha was acquired by the Capitals at the trade deadline in 2021, he went on a scoring tear with a goal in each of his first four games with Washington. Then he went ice cold, not scoring again for 15 games spanning the rest of the regular season and all of the Caps' postseason series against the Boston Bruins.
So while preseason goals may not matter in terms of stats or in the standings, those two goals absolutely matter to Mantha.
"It feels good for the confidence just to know that you still have that touch and even just going two in a row, I mean, it’s awesome to go into the season knowing that you’re still capable of scoring goals,” Mantha said.
But, truth be told, there's more to Mantha's renewed sense of confidence than just two exhibition-game goals.
Last season's trade was a whirlwind for Mantha as he was taken from one of the worst teams in the NHL and was plopped right in the thick of the playoff race in Washington. Adjusting to a new style and to the new level of intensity that comes with playing on a competitive team is a difficult transition for any player to make on the fly and Mantha struggled with it.
Now, with a full offseason, training camp and preseason under his belt, Mantha is starting to feel more comfortable both on and off the ice. Washington now feels like home.
“Just being able to be set up and have things back in my house, it feels good, you know?" Mantha said. "The hotel life is good on the road but then it becomes long when you’re 24-7 in the hotel. So just bringing in the old stuff, having your cars, it just feels like home now. I was here three weeks before camp so I’ve been here just over a month now already. It’s been awesome obviously trying to explore a little bit and it’s great to be here.”
Mantha also is feeling comfortable with his new linemates, Lars Eller and Daniel Sprong, as the trio seems to have found some instant chemistry on the ice.
"Playing with Lars and Spronger, I mean, it’s threats everywhere on the ice," Mantha said. "As soon as Spronger shoots the puck, it creates chaos. Lar and I just need to use our body, create chances in front of the net."
"Mantha's really hard to take the puck from when he is really on and he can dish," Eller said. "He's got scoring ability. He can play with pace, but he can also slow the game down a little bit at the same time."
He added, "I feel like after last game, we're at a place now where we're in sync with each other and we're ready to go."
At 27, Mantha is in the prime of his career and will be relied upon to produce.
At some point, the Caps will not be able to expect its 30+-year-old veterans to keep up the offensive pace. It will be up to players like Mantha to make up for any dropoff from those players.
After how last season finished, that would seem to be a lot to ask of Mantha. But settling into Washington with a training camp to prepare, a line he has found chemistry with and two preseason goals to boost his confidence, Mantha feels ready for the challenge.
Said Mantha, "Chemistry’s been there for two games now and hopefully keeps going into the start of the season.”