Sunday, September 18, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Forwards: Anthony Mantha

Anthony Mantha

“In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.”
-- Leonardo da Vinci

The “career potential” statement about Anthony Mantha at the Web site sums him up in six words – “Big, talented but inconsistent scoring winger.”  He is not a physical player, but he is no pushover.  He has good hands, stickhandles well (especially for a big man), is a reasonably efficient shooter.  So how is it he hasn’t posted a 20-goal season since his 24-year old year in 2018-2019 with Detroit (25 goals).  OK, part of the answer is the two seasons cut short to COVID.  It is harder to get to that scoring level if your schedule has 15-25 games torn off the sheet.  And Mantha has had to deal with significant injuries since then – knee and lung injuries that cost him 28 games in 2019-2020 and a shoulder injury that cost him 45 games with the Caps this past season.

What was unfortunate – frustrating in fact – about Mantha’s first full season with the Caps is that he started on a pace to finish with more than 50 points (2-4-6 in his first ten games) before sustaining the shoulder injury that would keep him out of the lineup until March.  And after his return, he was almost as productive, going 7-10-17 in 27 games.  His presence and production mattered.  The Caps were 21-9-7 when he was in the lineup (1.32 standings points per game), but were just 23-17-5 (1.13 standings points per game) in his absence.

Odd Mantha Fact… The Caps did not lose a game in regulation last season when Mantha skated less than 14 minutes (6-0-3).  They were 9-3-1 when he skated more than 16 minutes.  But that 14-16 minute window?  They were 6-6-3.

Fearless’ Take… Mantha recorded points in 18 of the 37 games in which he played last season, a respectable number for a player who suffered a serious shoulder injury that left a gaping hole in the middle of his season.  The Caps were 12-2-4 in those 18 games.  The Caps were 13-4-2 when he skated at least 15 minutes.  They were 16-4-3 in the 23 games in which he had two or more shots on goal.  He was sixth among 16 forwards dressing for at least 20 games for the Caps in on-ice even strength goals-for/against share (56.6 percent).  He was second among all Caps playing in at least 20 games in individual shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (53.8 percent).  Mantha was an impactful player when he was in the lineup.

Cheerless’ Take… Yeah, cuz, but that’s the thing, isn’t it? You can say “injuries happen,” but the fact remains that in seven seasons – five full ones if you want to take out the COVID years – he played more than 67 games once (80 games in 2017-2018).  And he missed 28 games in an abbreviated season in 2019-2020.  As for last season, as it wound down Mantha’s production took on a streaky character.  In his last 15 games he had a three-game and a four-game streak without points, and he recorded almost half of his nine points in a single game (two goals and two assists in an 8-4 win over Montreal on April 16th).

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 400 career games (he has 353)
  • 100 games as a Capital (51)

The Big Question… Can Anthony Mantha avoid injury and sustain a level of consistency with more games?

Washington has enough of an injury list to contend with to start the season; they do not need Mantha to be missing time for an injury bug that seems to have been dug in like a tick for much of his career.  He does not get a lot of attention for a player as productive as he was last season, but that is a combination of the Caps having some higher-wattage stars and his lack of availability.  He has an opportunity to make a career statement, if he can cobble together a 75-game or so season. 

One area in which Mantha suffers, and is likely to continue to suffer, is in lack of power play time.  Last season was the first time in seven seasons in which he did not record a power play goal.  The Caps, being a “right-handed” power play (plays originating from that side of the ice), with Ovechkin on the back side in his office, and Mantha being a left-handed shot (not a good choice for the pivot in a 1-3-1 power play), he just does not seem to have much of a role to play there.  That could depress his overall numbers some, but his even strength numbers were quite strong last season.  His 0.57 even strength points per game were just shy of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s production (0.58), and given Kuznetosv’s advantages of being a center with more playmaking opportunities, that is impressive.  He finished third among all Caps playing in more than one game in this statistical category (Alex Ovechkin led the team with 0.78 even strength points per game).  Mantha has a path to make this a memorable season, but it all starts with his health.

In the end…

The frustrating thing is about Anthony Mantha is that over his career, he averages 25 goals and 52 points per 82 games.  While one could argue that he seems capable of more, this is not insignificant production.  The time has come for Mantha to marry his considerable potential with production over a complete season.  This is the responsibility that comes with a $5.7 million cap hit, fifth highest on the team this season and with another year to run after this one.  His start to last season was as tantalizing as it was brief, before his shoulder injury.  This year, it will be important to repeat a strong start and sustain it over the full grind of an NHL season.  For Mantha and the Caps, the present is all that matters.

Projection: 66 games, 19-23-42, plus-8