Thursday, June 16, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault

Theme: “The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
-- Bertrand Russell

When you were a 177th overall pick in the draft, and you are 5’10” (maybe…), 174 pounds (after the buffet at Golden Corral), you are facing a bit of a climb to get to the National Hockey League, even if you did record 233 points in your last two years of juniors. Sometimes, it is easy to forget how far Mathieu Perreault has come in that climb to the NHL. He got his first taste of the NHL in 2009-2010, when he played in 21 games and recorded four goals and nine points. In 2010-2011 he lingered a bit longer, getting 35 games worth of experience with the Caps and recording seven goals and 14 points.

But with Perreault, the question has become, can he take that last leap to a permanent spot on the Caps’ roster. If you look at his (interrupted) ten-game splits, you can see a problem…

Perreault played in 13 of the Caps first 40 games, going 5-2-7, plus-6. But in the last four splits, he played in 22 games and went 2-5-7, minus-9. Perreault, in what might be an irony for such a prolific scorer in juniors, seems to have trouble finishing. What you can say about him is that he is opportunistic. He led all Caps’ skaters in shooting percentage (17.1 percent) for those Caps skating in a minimum of 20 games. And it might not be flukish, since he recorded a 14.8 percent mark in 2009-2010 in 21 games. He just does not get many shots on goal; fewer SOG on a per game basis (1.17 in 35 games) than did Boyd Gordon (1.28 in 60 games).

There were tantalizing indicators that there is something there. Among Caps forwards who played in at least 20 games, Perreault was second (to Alexander Semin) in goals scored-per-60 minutes at 5-on-5 ( He was fourth in points-per-60 minutes in those situations. But by the same token he was a brutal -0.35 in his plus-minus/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, fourth worst on the team among forwards skating in at least 20 games. Considering he faced the second weakest quality of competition among forwards for the Caps (20 games minimum), it is an indicator that he has some defensive deficiencies that need to be addressed if he is to stick with the big club.

Odd Perreault Fact… and this one might win the Christmas ham. If you look at the first game Perreault played after a hiatus – his first game after a call up, a first game after sitting – he was 4-2-6, plus-6 in four games. Over the remainder of his games he was 3-5-8, minus-9 in 31 games.

Game to Remember… December 19, 2010. If you’re going to score your first game-winning goal, make it memorable. The Caps traveled to Ottawa in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, recorded for all the premium viewing public to see on HBO’s series on the Winter Classic. Then, the Caps fell behind the dreadful Ottawa Senators, 2-0, in the first period. Perreault got the Caps started on a comeback by bunting home a rebound from the left post 34 seconds into the second period. After Eric Fehr tied the game less than a minute after that, Perreault scored the game-winner at 6:55 of the second when he stuffed a loose puck in from almost the identical spot on the ice, just off the left post. And if you are wondering, he sat out the Caps’ previous game, so this was another of those “first game back” wonders.

Game to Forget… February 25, 2011. Perreault was on the ice for the first two goals against in a 6-0 loss to the Rangers at Verizon Center. He attempted only one shot in 13:20 of ice time, had a giveaway, and split eight faceoffs and had an otherwise blank score sheet in going minus-2. It was his last game with the Caps for the season, his having been returned to Hershey shortly thereafter.

Post Season… Can’t even say his post season – in Hershey – was especially good. He was 3-3-6 in six games as the Bears fell in the first round.

In the end, Perreault is going to have to show that he can contribute over the long haul, not just in his first game or two after a hiatus when his adrenaline is pumping. And on a team that lacked a certain scoring punch after its eight-game losing streak, there was ample opportunity for a player with an offensive bent to make a mark. Another issue going forward is whether Perreault, given the gap between where he is on faceoffs (45.6 percent in 2010-2011) and defense (see above), would be better suited to winger than to center.

In the small world of Caps Nation optimism, there is the hope that Perreault (age 23) might enjoy the sort of blossoming that a Martin St. Louis enjoyed – didn’t enter the NHL until age 23, didn’t play in more than 50 games in a season until he was 24, didn’t top 50 points until he was almost 29. But that might be comparison by size (St. Louis being a diminutive player in size, like Perreault) rather than skill. As for what Perreault has shown to date, it is merely an indicator that the “magical things” that await him in the NHL will require his wits – and performance – to grow sharper still.

Grade: C+

(photo: John Carlson)

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