Mantha enjoying birth of first child, fast start with Capitals

WASHINGTON — Anthony Mantha smiled at the suggestion he might be off to a good start to his season because of his new dad strength.

Mantha and his fiancée Caitlyn Duffy welcomed their first child, daughter Naomie Mae Mantha, on Oct. 4. The forward has since scored two goals in the Washington Capitals’ first three games, including the winner in their 3-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

“I guess it’s a new strength,” Mantha said. “Ten days old.”

Mantha’s goal Saturday was pivotal, breaking a 1-1 tie 11:43 into the second period to help the Capitals (1-2-0) get their first win of the season after they lost their first two games. Mantha curled into the right circle to receive a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov out of the right corner and snapped off a shot that went in off the right arm of Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault.

Video: MTL@WSH: Mantha whips home a shot from the circle

That was the second of three unanswered goals Washington scored after falling behind.

“My goal was to have a good year and, obviously, not [struggling] a couple games and kind of trying to find your game,” Mantha said. “I had a slow start [Saturday] the first period and I just had to wake up in the second and third and I think I helped the team win.”

Washington, which will look to even its record when it hosts the Vancouver Canucks at Capital One Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; CITY, SNP, NBCSWA, ESPN+, SN NOW), could use more of that from Mantha throughout the season. With Tom Wilson (torn anterior cruciate ligament in left knee) expected to be out at least until December and Nicklas Backstrom (left hip resurfacing surgery) out indefinitely, the Capitals need other forwards to pick up the scoring slack and Mantha is one of the prime candidates.

Selected with the No. 20 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, Mantha has twice topped 20 goals in his seven seasons in the League, including an NHL career-high 25 in 2018-19.

Capable of playing either wing, Mantha is most effective when utilizing his skating and 6-foot-5, 234-pound frame to open room for himself and his linemates. On his goal Saturday, he used his speed, body positioning and quick hands to avoid the attempted stick check from Canadiens forward Cole Caufield and get off his shot. His size and strength were also evident during a late-game puck battle with defenseman Kaiden Guhle behind the Montreal net that led to a fight.

“We need him going and moving and bringing pucks to the net like he did by wiggling into the areas,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He got more physical as the game went on and that was good.”

Mantha’s biggest issue has been staying healthy. He played an NHL career-high 80 regular-season games in 2017-18, when he set his NHL career-high 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists), but has yet to play in a full 82 regular-season games. He had 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) in 67 games in 2018-19 despite missing a month with a hand injury. He dropped to 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 2019-20 when he was limited to 43 games because of a right shoulder injury.

Although Mantha did not miss a game in 2020-21, which was shortened to 56 games because of the coronavirus pandemic, that season was broken up for him by the April 12, 2021, trade that sent him from the Red Wings to the Capitals. He totaled 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) that season, including eight (four goals, four assists) in 14 games with Washington.

Mantha had 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 37 games last season when he missed nearly four months and 45 games while recovering from surgery on his left shoulder Nov. 5. That left him determined to stay in the lineup this season.

“I feel like I start every year healthy, but it’s just bad luck, I guess,” Mantha said. “Hopefully this year, I stay healthy, and I play all 82 games.”

That is the Capitals’ hope as well. Trying to spark the offense after it was limited to two goals in each of the first to games, Laviolette shuffled Washington’s line combinations Saturday, including shifting Mantha from right wing to left wing on a line with Kuznetsov at center and T.J. Oshie on the right wing.

The move had the desired effect with Kuznetsov getting his first point of the season, an assist on Mantha’s goal, and Oshie also assisting on Mantha’s goal and scoring a power-play goal.

“‘Mo,’ he is such a presence on the ice,” Oshie said. “If he stays healthy, I expect him to be on the scoresheet quite a bit. He is a big player for our team and really helps us with having some size up front with Tommy out of the lineup for a little bit, helps us with skill with Nick being out for a little bit. He’s a big part of our team and, when he is healthy, he is going for us.”

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