Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha have something to prove to the Capitals

Neither Evgeny Kuznetsov nor Anthony Mantha had a memorable season for the Washington Capitals last year. Reports surfaced that the 31-year-old Kuznetsov had requested a trade as the center’s production dropped by more than 20 points. The 29-year-old Mantha was a healthy substitute on several occasions, and the winger was often unconvincing in the lineup en route to scoring 11 goals in 67 games.

Both were trade candidates in the summer after general manager Brian MacLellan said he wanted to make changes to Washington’s top six forwards. But as the Capitals begin training camp – their first under new coach Spencer Carbery – Kuznetsov and Mantha are still wearing red, white and blue.

The first few days of training camp serve to emphasize optimism and leave frustration in the past. Kuznetsov and Mantha are no exception, but both are aware that they have more to give – and that their team needs more of them.

“I hope [Kuznetsov]“Like the rest of our guys, he’s driven by a slightly different philosophy – a new young coach who’s enthusiastic,” MacLellan said.

MacLellan’s expectations for Mantha were simple: “We need him to score some goals.”

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While home in Russia this summer, Kuznetsov cut himself off from the rumor mill — pointing out that there is currently no access to some social media in Russia — and returned to Washington spiritually refreshed.

“Last year was a tough year and I had lots and lots of bad thoughts and negativity in my head because I wasn’t happy with the way I played,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with my performance. I know how I can play and what I can bring to the table. But I wasn’t happy with the way I played and there’s frustration, right? If you’re frustrated, you’re probably overthinking. But it was very important for me to collect myself, come back here and enjoy every day.”

Mantha went through a similar process in the offseason, continuing to work with the mental coach he hired amid last year’s struggles. He’s also lost 10 pounds in hopes of becoming more explosive and getting back to his ideal playing weight. Although the 6-foot-10 winger weighed 234 pounds last season, he actually weighed about 10 pounds more; His goal is the low 230s.

Mantha said he can already feel the difference on the ice in practice and is looking forward to putting it to the test in a game. He is expected to be part of the group that plays the Capitals’ season opener Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Sabers at Capital One Arena.

“I feel like I’m explosive,” he said. “Just coming out of a sharp corner and then finding the opening – I think that’s the biggest difference I can notice at the moment. … I’m excited to get it going in a game.”

The motivation that comes with a contract year – Mantha is in the final season of a four-year deal with an average annual value of $5.7 million – is undoubtedly a factor in Mantha’s determination. But he’s also inspired by the suggestion that he fell short of the Capitals’ expectations when they traded for him in 2021.

“A lot,” Mantha said when asked what he wants to prove this year. “Last year was tough. They brought me in two and a half years ago and I have the feeling that I haven’t been the player they wanted. That’s my goal this year: to prove to them that the player is here and ready to play.”

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After a difficult 2022-23 under Peter Laviolette, Kuznetsov and Mantha will benefit from the fresh start that comes with a new coach.

“A great person,” Kuznetsov said of Carbery. “I feel like the way he looks at hockey is a perfect fit for me and the guys on the team.”…When I talk to him, there’s a lot of positivity in my head. [And] Most importantly, he was very honest with me, and I was very honest with him too.”

Mantha said: “He’s super positive. That’s the fun part about it. The boys are happy to be here – and so is the new coaching team. It just brings a good energy to the rink.”

At best, Kuznetsov and Mantha can be two of Washington’s best forwards. If the Capitals return to the playoffs in the spring, commitment from both sides could be a deciding factor.

“We need our core team to compete with the best in the league,” MacLellan said. “That’s all we’re going to do here.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/09/23/evgeny-kuznetsov-anthony-mantha-capitals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha have something to prove to the Capitals

Ian Walker

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