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‘It’s Actually Harder Than People Think’: Mantha Ready For Challenge On Capitals’ First Line

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington Capitals forward Anthony Mantha is no stranger to intensity. Towering at 6-foot-5, the Quebec native can play a physical and fast-moving game, using his size and speed to his advantage. That’s been kicked into a higher gear as he prepares for a new challenge.

After 14 regular-season games with the Capitals last season, it looks like Mantha is moving up to the top line.

The 26-year-old has been playing alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin so far in camp. It’s an opportunity he’s been waiting for, and one that he hopes to capitalize on.

“I’m excited about the line in general. I mean, to play with Ovi, it’s unreal and Kuzy is such a good player,” Mantha said.

Mantha is familiar with logging a lot of ice time. Before being dealt to Washington, he averaged 18:15 minutes a night with the Detroit Red Wings. However, playing with No. 8 and No. 92 is a big step forward.

He explained that Kuznetsov’s smooth playmaking ability makes him a major asset that raises the stakes on the forecheck.

“[Kuzy] will find you. I mean, I think it’s the same thing as playing with [Nicklas Backstrom] last year, he’s able to find you wherever on the ice you’re gonna be at,” Mantha explained. “[I’ll] try and play smart and just open up at the right time and maybe set a little pick for him to skate. He loves to carry the puck. Let him do his thing and then just like I said open up and try to find the open area.”

READ MORE ON WHN: Takeaways From Capitals Training Camp Day 6

And, although Ovechkin’s made goal-scoring look easy, Mantha said that’s not exactly the case.

“It’s actually harder than people think, you want to give it to him. But obviously, the defenseman knows you want to give it to him too so you need to kind of play it smart,” Mantha said, adding, “I think we’re three great players and we just need to take the open play.

“I think he thinks about shooting, shooting, shooting. It’s no secret, that’s his game,” Mantha added of the Great 8. “And he’s always positioned properly to get that one tee off for that quick shot. I mean, he’s quick too. When he decides to wheel in the neutral zone and when he wants the puck wide, you better give it to him because he’s just flying.”

The trio played just 34 seconds together in total at 5-on-5 last season, so there hasn’t been a sample size to go off of. However, Mantha did get to play 18:04 with Ovechkin last season, putting up a 68.48 expected goals-for percentage and 68.75 scoring chances-for percentage.

Overall, the Capitals will look for Mantha to make an impact as they test out a new combination. Though they haven’t played a game together yet, camp has been a good starting point. There’s chemistry there, and Mantha hopes that’ll carry over into the regular season.

“It’s awesome, I mean, it’s going to be an excellent challenge for me to play with those two,” Mantha said. “I’m excited for it.”

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