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Notes: Mantha still seeking improvement

Red Wings recall Givani Smith; Abdelkader out at least three weeks

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- Statistically, Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha is having a very good year so far.

The 6-foot-5, 234-pound power forward leads the Wings in goals and points (11-7-18). His 18 points rank 18th overall in the NHL and his 11 goals are eighth best in the league.

Mantha's three game-winning goals place him fourth in the league and his 73 shots are fifth highest in the NHL.

But despite the impressive start to the season, Mantha still has lulls in his game.

In Sunday's 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, Mantha notched the game-winning goal with just 30.9 seconds left in the game, but also during the game, Mantha bounced around a bit from line to line and had several short shifts on the ice.

"Yesterday I told you guys that I didn't necessarily play my best game (versus Vegas). Maybe that's why there was some juggling on lines there, a couple shifts on the bench," Mantha said after Monday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center. "It wasn't my best and I need to make sure to play my best game every night and help the team win every night.

"Over the years, it's been consistency, we talked about it, we talked about it, we talked about it. I think this year for the most part I've been pretty good. Yesterday, yes, I had an off night, doesn't mean tomorrow I'm not going to have a great night so I just need to be ready, focus before every game and just show up."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "I need to make sure to play my best game every night and help the team win every night."Anthony Mantha x Practice Day.

Getting Mantha to bring his 'A' game has been a challenge for him and the Red Wings.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill at various points over the course of the last several seasons has made Mantha a healthy scratch, demoted him to the fourth line, limited his ice time, taken him off the power play and sat him on the bench for long stretches during games.

Yet, Blashill's belief in Mantha as an extraordinary talent has never waned.

"First of all, let's take everything into totality, he's been our most dangerous offensive player all season," Blashill said. "He's had a really good start to the year and he's been our most dangerous offensive player. Is he perfect every night? No. Is anybody in this room perfect every night? No. Is it evident when he's not moving his feet? Yes.

"He's 6-foot-5, when he moves his feet he's really fast, when he doesn't move his feet, you can tell, everyone in the building can tell. That doesn't mean other guys don't have lots of nights where they're at 80 percent or they're playing their 'B' game but you don't really even know it as a fan or a reporter or a coach, although I would say I usually know it.

"With regards to Anthony, he scored 80 goals in 80 games in junior and he would self-admit, standing still, and he could just do it, he was big, he held onto the puck, he could do it. He's had to change habits. That does not happen overnight, he's worked very, very hard at it. I'm super-proud of the effort he's put into it. Is it perfect? No. But he's been a pretty darn good player for us this year and we're glad we have him."

Mantha's self-awareness of when he's on and when he's not has confounded him through the years. He's been seeing a sports psychologist since his days in Grand Rapids and though it has helped him significantly, in the end, it's up to Mantha to figure out how to get the most out of himself.

"Every single player knows when they're not at their best and they know when they are. It's a natural thing. No one knows my game more than I do, you know," he said.

Where there was once self-doubt, it has been replaced with self-confidence. It appears Mantha has finally found an understanding and a comfort level within himself to bring out the very best he can be on the ice night in and night out.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Blashill gives an update on Abdelkader and more before the team heads out west for a 3-game trip.Full 📽���:

ABDELKADER HURT; SMITH RECALLED: After Monday's practice, Blashill informed the press corps that Justin Abdelkader will be out for at least three weeks with a "mid-body" injury.

With Abdelkader sidelined, the Wings have recalled forward Givani Smith from the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Though Blashill wouldn't elaborate on Abdelkader's injury, it is believed to have occurred late in the game on Sunday when the Golden Knights were pressing hard to tie up the score.

At the 18:34 of the third period, according to the play-by-play, Abdelkader blocked a shot off the stick of Knights defenseman Nick Holden.

"(Abdelkader), he'll be out for an extended period of time. I don't know the exact timeline, it depends on how it heals," Blashill said. "I would say minimum of three weeks and it could be longer than that. We'll just keep giving you updates as the healing process goes.

"I think Abby's played good here and I thought he did a good job. He obviously had the injury earlier (upper body) and had to come back and now he's got another injury, so it's tough for him for sure. I appreciate the sacrifice that he makes, so it's unfortunate but it's part of the game, so we recalled Givani Smith so we got 13 forwards."

In 16 games played, Abdelkader has three assists, is plus-1, has registered 29 hits, blocked 10 shots and has an ice time average of 13:05 per game.

This will be Smith's second stint with the Red Wings this season. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 25 versus Buffalo at Little Caesars Arena and played in three games for the Wings before he was sent back to Grand Rapids on Oct. 30.

Smith didn't look out of place in his three games with Detroit, using his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to provide grit and physicality to Detroit's lineup.

"He (Smith) fits in that fourth line well. He can keep that line an element. I think that line's been pretty good for us," Blashill said. "The (Dylan) Larkin line and that line have been two of our better lines throughout the season at different times, so he can add to that abrasiveness, physicality, forechecking, net presence, things that are important to us. So it'll be good to have him."

It was a bit of an adjustment period for Smith to acclimate his game to the professional level last season as a first-year pro. But he didn't sulk, which impressed the Wings.

"He's worked hard over the last number of summers and worked hard over the last couple of years," Blashill said. "My biggest thing would be he simplified his game through the neutral zone from the top of the circle in our end to the blue line, he's decided to skate when they get pucks in behind and do what he does best, which is forecheck, O-zone grind, net presence. If I had one word that describes why he's coming it's he's simplified his game in a good way.

"When you're in junior, you're able to get away with certain things, maybe because you're bigger or a better athlete or better hockey player than the ones you're going against, and once you get to pro, all the sudden, everyone's pretty close to equal and you got to find ways to be successful and he's done a good job of simplifying his game.

"I think playing within himself is something he didn't do when he first came and part of that is because he didn't have to in junior. Good for him and good coaching by Ben Simon made him aware of it. He understood it and simplified his game."

After posting 13 points (6-7-13) in 64 games last season for the Griffins, Smith already has 7 points (3-4-7) in just 10 games for Grand Rapids this year.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: The #RedWings today recalled right wing Givani Smith from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.Details:

SPECIAL TEAMS AND GOALTENDING THE KEY OUT WEST: If you ask any of the Red Wings why they were able to take down the Bruins and the Knights over the weekend, they'll point to the same factors for their winning ways.

"Our special teams and Bernie (Jonathan Bernier) has been great and to add on top of that your best penalty killer is your goalie and he has to bail you out sometimes and he did that the last two games so, those two things are what it comes down to right now,"Dylan Larkin said.

Mantha agrees with Larkin.

"Special teams. That's the difference in the last two games," Mantha said. "That's how we won our games. I think over the course of the year, 5-on-5 we've been playing pretty good. Special teams was a big part of our wins this weekend."

Mantha also added he believes the Wings handled being scored upon better than they have done previously this season. It was all too common once the Wings surrendered a goal, it triggered a snowball effect, allowing a plethora of goals for the opposition.

"We talked about it inside the room and we knew it's hockey, obviously you're going to get scored on at one point but we need to react the proper way and I think that's been the difference over the weekend also," Mantha said.

Detroit was shorthanded six times over the weekend and gave up only one power-play tally, which is encouraging since the Wings are last in the league in penalty killing.

When Blashill was asked how the Wings could build off their two-game winning streak as they head out west for three games, he was succinct.

"Two big keys that I think are big keys every night in this league and that's special teams and goaltending," Blashill said. "We've gotten that the last couple of nights. I think we out-chanced Vegas by our standard 14-12 last night. It was a close game. Those games can go either way.

"In the end, we got a couple of big saves at huge moments and we out-specialty teamed them. That to me, I think 5-on-5, we've played very good hockey. I've said that lots, that's what the underlying stats say. We have to win the specialty team battles enough nights, we've have to get good goaltending, and we've got that the last couple of nights."

A quick start on Tuesday against Anaheim could also be a catalyst for the Wings to rack up points on their western swing.

"It's going to be three hard games every second night on this trip," Mantha said. "We need to focus on Anaheim, they're a big, strong team. We know they're going to be intense, especially at home.

"We need to be more intense than them and be ready for them. Hopefully we could win that first game and get on a heater for the rest of this trip."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: With 2 wins, 2 assists and a .912 SV% this week, Jonathan Bernier is your @Xfinity Player of the Week. 🙌

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