"It was huge," Mantha admitted after the team's optional morning skate at Bell Centre. "Obviously when I got the verdict back from the docs, they said three to five, six weeks. I knew day for day, three weeks was Montreal so I wanted to be back in the lineup and ready to go."
When Mantha was injured in the first period in New Jersey Nov. 23, he was leading the team in goals with 12 and points with 23.
Tyler Bertuzzi has since passed him in points at 25 (10-15-25) but it's no secret the team has struggled to score without Mantha. Bertuzzi is the only other Wing in double digits in goals.
"Anthony is obviously a really, really talented and good offensive player and one of our biggest offensive threats, if not the biggest offensive threat," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "He was having a heck of a year before he got hurt. He looks good. This is on the early side of the timeline but I think he's done a really good job of getting himself prepared. He looks really good, he's in a good frame of mind, so it just gives us more weapons.
"We went through a stretch there where we didn't have a whole lot of weapons. Guys worked hard but we didn't have a whole lot of weapons. Scoring matters in this league. It changes momentum in games and ultimately dictates whether you win or lose and I think having a guy like Anthony back is a big thing."
Including the Devils game in which the Wings lost, 5-1, the Wings scored a total of nine goals in eight games, all losses, before finally breaking out against the Winnipeg Jets at home on Thursday, winning a 5-2 decision.
"Everyone's watching, everyone thinks they have the solution but technically it's only between the guys in the room," Mantha said. "Like I said, it was hard to watch. Obviously you don't want to see your buddies and your teammates struggle like that but they got out of it, it's behind us and right now we're trying to build on the future."
When Mantha got hurt, he was playing on the top line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, but that will not likely be the way the game will start.
"From what it was this morning, with (Valtteri) Filppula and (Filip) Zadina tonight," Mantha said. "(Robby) Fabbri, Larks and Bert are playing good hockey these last couple games so if we could get that line going and get our line going, then that's two strong offensive lines."
Although Mantha wasn't able to practice with the team until recently, he has not looked limited at all.
"He's skated a lot to get himself ready for this," Blashill said. "He skated enough here. He doesn't look like a guy who isn't ready to come back. He looks totally ready to come back.
"He's in a great frame of mind and when he's in a great frame of mind like that, when he's playing on top of his game, he's a beast, he's one of the best in the league."
Blashill also said Andreas Athanasiou would return to action after missing the last two games with an undisclosed ailment.
ZADINA HEATING UP: Not only did Zadina score in his last game, he had a career-best three points.
In fact, Zadina has six points (1-5-6) in his last five games.
"That was one of my best games but we played good as a team so it's probably easier to play," Zadina said after participating in the optional morning skate. "Obviously, it gave me some confidence. I just want to prove I'm a good player in these games for sure. I don't want to be one game good and the second game bad. I just want to keep it at the same level."
Zadina said that one thing that has helped him improve both in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins and now with the Wings is patience.
"The AHL is about patience and time," Zadina said. "If you get time there, you figure out what you got to do, what you got to work on. Obviously, I was working on myself during the summer and especially during the season to be a better overall player. Just be the best everywhere you are."
Mantha said he was looking forward to playing on the same line with Zadina.
"I think he's playing pretty good," Mantha said. "Obviously he had a good game last game and hopefully his confidence keeps growing and he makes the right plays at the right time."
Blashill has seen the growth in Zadina, noting that the young forward just turned 20 on Nov. 27.
"He gets every night a chance to prove it," Blashill said. "Certainly, he took a step in the right direction in the Winnipeg game. Each game he's been up here, he's done a pretty good job. He looks way more confident than he did in the preseason, way more confident certainly than last year. I thought in the nine-game stretch he came up at the end of last year he played fine, but now he looks way more confident, he's way more dangerous. He's better with the puck. He's competing away from the puck, both offensively and defensively. He's taken steps in the right direction.
"Without a shadow of a doubt he's a better player now than he was in the fall and I think that's great for everybody involved and hopefully he can have a big game tonight."
LAST TIME IN MONTREAL: Things were quite different the last time the Wings visited the Bell Centre.
In that game, the Wings snapped an eight-game losing streak in Montreal with a 4-2 victory on Oct. 10.
"We played good that game for sure," Blashill said. "We caught them on the back half of back-to-backs so I'm sure they were a little bit tired. This will be different. I thought we did a real good job of getting pucks behind, making them defend more, so they couldn't use some of their transition and speed game. I thought we won the battle of the net fronts. This team has always been, historically over the years, especially with (Brendan) Gallagher and Tats (Tomas Tatar) and guys like that, they're hard around the net. They've won the battle in front of our net too many times and I thought last game we did a pretty good job. So we'll have to do a good job against them again."
Tatar, the former Wing, leads the Canadiens in scoring with 28 points (11-17-28) and Gallagher is not far behind at 26 points (14-12-26).
"I'm not surprised at all. Tats is a good player," Blashill said. "He was a good player for us for sure. Certainly, the current team, we miss Tats without a doubt. Ultimately, the decision was made for the future. We have a number of draft picks because of it. But Tats is a hell of player, hell of a person, he competes hard, good winner. I can't say enough good things about Tats."
Of course, the last time the Wings were in Montreal, Blashill decided to have an extra hot dog, which means he will have to partake once again.
"Three for sure," Blashill said. "It's not suggested by our nutritionist or my wife but I'll go with three and enjoy every single bite of it and hopefully have a win."