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)

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson

Theme: “Seeing much, suffering much, and studying much, are the three pillars of learning.”
-- Benjamin Disraeli

When Marcus Johansson took the ice for the Caps at the 1:40 mark of the first period in the 2010-2011 season opener against the Atlanta Thrashers, he had not yet played a league game in North America. New country, new ice dimensions, new style. A challenge for anyone in that circumstance, even the 24th overall pick of the 2009 entry draft. It was not a dramatic opening act for the young Swede, who finished the night with no shots on goal, one faceoff win in eight tries, and an otherwise clean score sheet in 13:06 of playing time.

By the time his regular season was finished, though, Johansson played in 69 games, finished sixth among Caps forwards in goals and points, tied for 11th among all NHL rookie forwards in points, and did it all while only being whistled for ten minutes in penalties while logging more than 1,000 minutes of total ice time.

In between, his ten-game splits show a player who climbed the learning curve with more than satisfactory speed:

It is worth noting that Johansson missed nine games (Games 8-16 on the schedule) with a hip flexor injury after hitting a rut at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins on October 21st. Upon returning to the lineup he did most of his statistical damage, compiling a 12-14-26, plus-3 mark in 63 games, including 21 points and a plus-6 in the 2011 portion of the season (covering 43 games).

His season breaks down into its 2010 and 2011 portions cleanly in terms of ice time. In the 2010 portion of the season he topped 14 minutes of ice time only seven times in 26 games. In the 2011 portion of the season, he played in less than 14 minutes only ten times in 43 games.  Just what you would want to see from a rookie learning and mastering each step on the learning ladder.

Although Johansson showed steady improvement in scoring over the course of the season and was given more responsibility (reflected in more ice time) as the season wore on, one area in which he lagged was in faceoffs. He did not win a majority of his faceoffs on a regular basis, as his ten-game splits indicate:

1st 10: 2 times over 50 percent/six games played
2nd 10: 1/3
3rd 10: 1/10
4th 10: 0/7
5th 10: 2/10
6th 10: 5/10
7th 10: 1/10
Last: 0/12

He was especially weak on the road, winning only 37.9 percent of the faceoffs he took, although the one curiosity in this statistic was that he won a majority of the power play faceoffs he took (53.1 percent).  However, not much can be divined from a 32-faceoff sample.

One area in which he did quite well, though, was turnovers. His takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 1.62 (47 takeaways, 29 giveaways) had him among the leaders in the group of Caps forwards and was not far off the mark of Nicklas Backstrom (1.74) as a benchmark for comparison.

Odd Johansson Fact… Johansson had more goals in losses (seven in 31 losses) than he had in wins (six in 38 wins).

Game to Remember… March 15, 2011. Marcus Johansson was not a part of the Caps team that lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs, but in the Caps first visit to Bell Centre since that playoff defeat, Johansson potted two goals, including the game-winner in a 4-2 decision.

Game to Forget… January 18, 2011. Johansson assisted on the Caps’ first goal in their contest against the Philadelphia Flyers, but he was on the ice for all three Flyer goals (finishing minus-2), including the overtime winner as the Flyers took a 3-2 decision at Wells Fargo Center.

Post Season… At a high level, you might say that Johansson held his own in his first NHL post season – 2-4-6, minus-2, in nine games. But take away a 2-0-2, plus-3 effort in Game 4 of the first round series against the Rangers, and he is left with 0-4-4, minus-5 in eight games. Call it a lesson to be learned in the difference in intensity in the post season compared to that of the regular season.

In the end, the takeaway for Johansson is his improvement over the course of the season. That he would be a more productive scorer late was good to see and perhaps surprising in that he did not play more than 45 games in either of his regular season tours with Färjestads BK in the SEL that preceded his first season with the Caps.

It was a solid year for a rookie who might have been pigeonholed as a third or fourth liner getting his feet wet, but who skated frequently with the second line and also received some significant time centering the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin. The faceoff problems made for some lineup juggling that caused Nicklas Backstrom to take more defensive zone faceoffs than a player of his responsibilities might otherwise take. But that it was Backstrom taking those draws – a player who himself struggled with faceoffs in his first couple of years – which suggests that Johansson’s struggles could be short-lived. All in the process of learning the game at the highest level of performance. It should only get better for him.

Grade: B

(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)