Monday, September 26, 2011

Washington Capitals 2011-2012 Previews: Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault

Theme: “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”
-- William Shakespeare

In four games in which he began stretches of games with the Washington Capitals after call-ups or sitting out games last season, Mathieu Perreault was 4-2-6, plus-6, one of the four goals being the one that famously ended the Caps’ eight-game losing streak in December 2010. In 31 other games with the Caps last season Perreault was 3-5-8, minus-9.

Mathieu Perreault has been the hockey player version of a Roman candle – a firework that explodes brightly, if briefly. In 56 career games he has posted a respectable 11-12-23, plus-1 scoring line, especially since he has averaged only about 11:40 of ice time per game in those 56 contests. Last season he was 12th among 13 Caps forwards in ice time per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (among those playing the entire season with the team and in at least 30 games), yet he finished fourth among that same set of forwards in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. He had the fourth best Corsi value among those forwards and the fourth best relative Corsi value.

One could explain these results away by saying that he did not face the stiffest competition (11th among the group of 13 forwards), but his quality of teammates was not awe-inspiring, either – seventh among the 13 forwards (all numbers from One could say he benefitted from advantageous offensive zone starts (54.6 percent, fifth among the group of 13 forwards), but he also had a small dropoff when it came to offensive zone finishes (53.7 percent). His problem has been less his production overall and more his ability to build off hot starts once he is inserted into the lineup.

He also has had a mixed bag among some of the other responsibilities of his position. On the one hand, his takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 1.64:1 in his career thus far reflects a certain responsibility with the puck. On the other hand, as a center one would like to see improvement on his 45.4 percent winning percentage in 56 games.

Fearless’ Take: Perreauit has little to prove at the AHL level. In 167 regular season games he is 38-97-135, plus-47. To that add 12-21-33, plus-15 in 51 post season games in the AHL. He has added some bulk since his early days in the organization, and he has displayed a certain fearlessness in going into traffic. For him it is a matter of taking the last step to a regular spot in an NHL lineup.

Cheerless’ Take: Of 891 players who dressed in the NHL last season, 873 of them carried more weight than the 174 pounds in the program that Perreault was credited with carrying. The six-month, 82-game schedule of the NHL can be quite a grind, and Perreault’s ability to stick with the big club is going to depend on his ability to produce, if not at the highest level, than at a more consistent one than he has displayed. In spurts he has produced at what a second line forward might contribute, but there have been those stretches when, whether due to lack of focus or lack of bulk to sustain him in the physical grind, he hasn’t displayed that consistency.

The Big Question… With the Caps seemingly set with their top-six forwards, can Perreault manage to carve out a niche that will make him more than a fill-in or call-up player?

The Caps are set with The Alexes, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble, and Marcus Johansson as top six forwards. Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich will get time in the sixth spot. Moving down the forward lines, Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, and Jason Chimera seem sure bets to keep their jerseys. That leaves one slot in the starting lineup and perhaps two other roster spots as healthy scratches. Perreault is competing with Mattias Sjogren, Jay Beagle, Cody Eakin, D.J. King, and Chris Bourque for one of those open lineup or roster spots. Perreault is probably the most talented offensive player of that group, but it will take more than that – at least more than that on a sporadic basis – to win one of those spots.

In the end…

There really is no mystery to what it will take for Perreault to make the club on a permanent basis. He has the speed, the skill, the willingness to stick his nose into traffic, so to speak, in part evidenced by his being suspected of suffering a concussion last season. What he has lacked is the ability to do that for more than a few games at a time, generally when he is freshly inserted into the lineup. Last season might have been a lost opportunity for Perreault in that the Caps center situation was so unsettled that he could have grabbed a slot by the throat. It did not happen. Now, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson have established themselves as the top two centers. This is not to say that there is no room for Perreault as a third line center or perhaps even as a wing. But this year, the roster spots open to competition are fewer, and Perreault need to establish that he can be more than an effective player at the AHL level to secure one of them. He has been running this race fo a while now, but it is not yet over for him, either.

Projection: 36 games, 8-9-17, +1

(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)