Anthony Mantha Hot Streaks have been a familiar sight since the winger debuted with the Red Wings back in 2016. Twice before I’ve blogged something to the effect of, “Oh my god, this dude keeps scoring and maybe he won’t stop and he’ll finally reach his full potential.” But of course, every time Mantha’s done something like net six goals in four games, he’s been stopped in his tracks by the end of a season, or an injury, or a global pandemic that kept him off the ice for 10 months, or simply a bad run of form. If he had found real, reliable consistency in Detroit, he would have demanded a much bigger haul in last week’s trade than just Jakub Vrana and prospects TBD. But alas, the story of his career in Hockeytown is one of a 20-goal scorer who, for whatever reason, just couldn’t quite put it all together to become a first-tier NHL forward, and also had some numbing cold stretches that in retrospect feel far more memorable than his hat tricks.
Now that all my emotional Wings fans baggage is out of the way: Goddamn, what a start for Anthony Mantha with the Capitals! Since making his debut alongside an enormous linemate upgrade in T.J. Oshie and Nick Backstrom, Mantha has scored in all four of his games for his new team. And though the Caps are a mere 2-2 in those contests—and also, one of those goals was an empty netter, if we’re picking nits—Mantha’s sudden otherworldly boost in efficiency is more than enough to generate an instant case of seller’s remorse from the franchise where he had scored just 11 goals in 42 games prior. Particularly when it’s on an actually scary power play already loaded with weapons, and not the Wings’s bottom-of-the-barrel extra-man unit, this shot is something that can win you playoff games down the line.
I said last week that Vrana’s slight youth advantage and ability to nearly match Mantha’s production despite significantly fewer opportunities as a Capital made me like this deal even before the draft picks came into play. Obviously, one week of outstanding performance doesn’t change that, especially because I’ve seen this movie before. But I maybe underestimated just how immediately freeing it would be for Mantha to suddenly be surrounded by all-star-level talent instead of the scrubs and youngsters he was asked to carry in Detroit. Washington is a Cup contender, and, even before you factor in how Mantha fits better into their future financial situation, the Caps wanted a short-term upgrade at the deadline, and it looks like they got it. If Mantha keeps it up, his talents could help the Capitals see another division title through and potentially provide a huge boost in the postseason. Here’s the bad news, though, from a Wings fan to Caps fans: “If Mantha keeps it up” is about the emptiest phrase you can utter in the NHL.