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Notes: Mantha learning to have success through net-front presence

Forward got to celebrate milestone 20th goal with his dad

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- The post-game celebration when Anthony Mantha scored his 20th goal of the season was a bit muted Sunday night after the Red Wings lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Yet the 20-goal marker is an important milestone for a young player.

"Obviously it's one of the first milestones to reach. It's always fun," Mantha said after the team's optional practice Wednesday. "You can't lie about it. After the game there, losing with 30 seconds left, it was harder to be happy about it, but I'll be honest, I'm pretty happy, especially my dad asked me for the puck when he played in Tampa. He was like, 'Get me that 20 goals so I could go back home with it.' It was three games but I still got it while he was here and I gave him my stick, so he can do whatever he wants with the stick and the puck."

Mantha's father, Daniel Pronovost, did not only get the milestone stick and puck, he also got to spend quality time with his son and the other players and their dads.

"It was awesome," Mantha said. "All the dads had plenty of fun. It's just different a little bit. Usually you go to the hotel and rest. This road trip with the fathers, it was like moving every day and doing activities with them. Going for dinner, maybe a drink. We went golfing with a couple of dads, so that was lots of fun."

So far this season, Mantha is among 56 players to reach 20 goals and he is the only member of the Red Wings to do so.

Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are tied for second on the team with 16 goals apiece.

Perhaps the most important part of the milestone goal for Mantha is how it came, on a deflection of Nyquist's shot when he went to the net.

Unlike with retired Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom, the net-front was not Mantha's normal office but it's a place where he can be very successful.

It's a habit that the Red Wings are trying to help Mantha get ingrained.

"Habits are taught in numerous ways," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "They're taught through repetition in practice. They're taught through conversation. They're taught through video. They're taught through immediate consequence from when you do and when you don't. We're in the business of training habits here. I think he's really done a good job of getting to the net. He's learned a lot of those things and he's continuing to learn some of the nuances of being around it.

"Him and I had a conversation yesterday. He's got 20 goals on the year, 10 of which were either rebounds or tips in front of the net. Now, he would have scored some if he wasn't net-front on the power play in different areas, but maybe five. He's not probably got 10 at that point. That's an easy way to get lots of goals, so let's keep getting good at it."

Blashill has shown Mantha video clips of Toronto's James van Riemsdyk, who scored shortly after Mantha did in the second period, and has become a net-front mainstay.

"We kind of looked at each other after he scored his and I scored mine, just being like, 'You want to get this going? Alright, let's do it,'" Mantha said. "He's one of the good ones also in the league and obviously I've looked at a lot of clips of him."

In van Riemsdyk's second season in the league, he scored 21 goals in 75 games. Mantha has 20 in 57 games.

The Wings' last opponent, the Nashville Predators, had another example for Blashill to show Mantha.

"I went in his office and he showed me a couple of clips," Mantha said. I think it was (Colton) Sissons in Nashville, how he was net-front against Ottawa. He showed me two clips. Sissons didn't even touch the puck but the team scored, so it's just little details that I'm trying to get better at. Right now, I'm not sure what the percentage is, but as soon as I'm inside 20 feet of that net and I get a scoring chance, it's pretty much there."

Blashill said Mantha's net-front presence has ebbed and flowed throughout the season, for good reason in some instances.

"Frky (Martin Frk) shoots the puck really hard and so it can dissuade you at times," Blashill said. "I think he had to learn on those one-timers, when you watch any of those guys when they really hit those one-timers, lots of times there's no screens. What you do screen is the pass. So I think he had to learn that although you don't have to be right in front of the goalie when he actually hits the one-timer, you gotta make sure the goalie doesn't see the pass.

"There's little nuances like that that I think through the course of the year he's gotten better at. I even showed a couple of thing yesterday from the Nashville game against Ottawa where Sissons did a real good job with a moving screen. It's just a learned process that he's continued to work at."

Like many players, Mantha was successful in junior hockey playing on the half-wall.

"That's not to say he wouldn't be a good half-wall guy (in the NHL)," Blashill said. "I don't know per se, but I know he can be a great net-front guy, and I also know there's tons of points sitting around that net. I think he's had to embrace it. I think he did a good job early in the year. There's times when he's been better than others of being in front of the goalie's eyes, but again it's a habit and part of a learning thing. I think in the end Anthony wants to be a real good player and he cares a ton and he's willing to work to get better."

SOME PLAYERS NOT GOING ANYWHERE: While many players are on their toes this week with the trade deadline looming Monday, others are highly unlikely to be moved.

Mantha is one of those players as the Red Wings hope he will be one of the cornerstones moving forward.

Yet seeing teammates leave as Petr Mrazek did when he was traded to Philadelphia and perhaps others by next week can affect everyone.

"I think it's part of the game," Mantha said. "Obviously, everyone knows that you can get traded at any time. For Mrazek, it's just a good opportunity for him. If we do lose more teammates, obviously we'll wish them luck in their new team. I would say it's pretty exciting to play against them afterwards. Maybe a little challenge for them and for you."

Mantha said he's looking forward to facing Mrazek when the Flyers come to town March 20.

OLYMPIC LETDOWN: Blashill is very close to everyone in USA Hockey, having served as head coach for Team USA in the world championships last year and as an assistant coach in other tournaments.

Blashill is also close to men's Olympic hockey coach Tony Granato, his former assistant with the Wings, and with Granato's assistants, Chris Chelios and Ron Rolston.

So Blashill was disappointed when Team USA lost to Team Czech Republic in a 3-2 shootout Tuesday night.

"I went home and watched it," Blashill said. "I texted them this morning, I didn't text them last night. They were bummed, obviously. Their guys played hard. I heard Tony talk about when they started that they wanted to make sure that they played in a manner that made people proud that they wore the U.S. jersey. I watched them play and man, they made people proud that they wore the U.S. jersey. They've got nothing to be ashamed of. They should hold their heads high. Shootouts are a tough way to end an Olympics. But it's the rules, it's the way it goes. With that said, they played hard."

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