Sunday, October 07, 2012

Washington Capitals 2012-2013 Previews -- Forwards: Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault

Theme:  "To improve the golden moment of opportunity and catch the good that is within our reach is the great art of life."
-- Samuel Johnson

Do good things come in threes?  Consider the case of Mathieu Perreault.  Three seasons he spent at Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the QMJHL.  By the time he was finished he was averaging close to two points a game (34-80-114 in 65 games in his final regular season).  Three seasons he spent with the Hershey Bears in the AHL, and by the time he completed his third season – actually he split time between Hershey and Washington – he was a point a game player (35 points in 34 regular season games). 

Perreault just completed his third season in the NHL, and the term “continuous improvement” applies.  He played in 21 games in his first season, 35 in his second, and 64 last season.  His goal totals jumped from 4 to 7 to 16; his points from 9 to 14 to 30.

He was a very efficient goal scorer in 2011-2012.  Among the Capitals he had the fourth highest goals-per-game average – 0.25, behind only Alex Ovechkin (0.49), Nicklas Backstrom (0.33), and Alexander Semin (0.27).  More impressive is that had he qualified (he lacked the minimum number of shots on goal) his 26.7 percent shooting percentage would have led the league by a wide margin (Curtis Glencross, 23.6 percent).

That shooting efficiency made for your odd Perreault fact.  He recorded goals in 13 games last season.  In seven of them he recorded a goal on his only shot of the game, and in a two-goal game against the Detroit Red Wings in October 2011 he accomplished the feat on the only two shots he recorded on goal.  In his lone hat trick game – against Boston in January 2012 – he notched the three goals on the comparatively inefficient five shots on goal (60 percent), his high shot total of any game of the 2011-2012 season.

That efficiency did not make its presence known in the playoffs, though. Four games, one shot on goal, no points.  In fact, Perreault recorded more hits in four games (seven) than shots on goal attempted (two, the other shot taken was a miss).  As noble as it might be that Perreault averaged almost as many hits per game (1.75) as, say, Jason Chimera (1.79), that is not what he is out there to do.  He did not dress for any of the Caps last ten post season games.

Fearless’ Take…

Perreault had by far the highest goals for/on-ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 among Caps forwards playing in at least 40 games last season (3.36 to 3.02 for Alexander Semin).  He also had the best differential of goals for/on ice to goals for/off ice at 5-on-5 among the same group of forwards (+1.18 to +1.00 for Semin).  PDO…second highest in this group.  Penalties drawn per 60 minutes…tops.  Corsi/on ice value at 5-on-5…tops by a mile (11.54 to 5.21 for Semin).  He recorded 13 goals in his last 37 games, a 29-goal scoring pace, and was a plus-10 for a plus-22 pace.  In those last 37 games he was arguably the Caps’ most effective offensive player not named “Ovechkin” (21 goals in his last 37 games).

Cheerless’ Take…

As long as we’re comparing those fancy numbers (which come from… quality of competition at 5-on-5: next to last among Caps forwards playing at least 40 games.  Corsi relative to quality of competition: last.  On ice save percentage: lower than every forward except Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer, both of whom faced stiffer competition (that’s half your PDO, cuz).  Offensive zone starts: third, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom.  His goals against/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was middle of the pack among Caps forwards (seventh of 13 in the group), but that looks like it was more his being protected from stiff competition and having to face it more often in the offensive zone. 

The Big Question… Just where does Mathieu Perreault fit?

Mathieu Perreault is nominally a center, but it would be hard to think he has an inside track to any of the top three slots on this team.  Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro are certainly ahead of him, and Marcus Johansson probably has an edge over Perreault on the third line, though that is by no means a certainty.  Perreault is an opportunistic goal scorer, as evidenced by his shooting percentage (he is over 20 percent in 120 career NHL games), but he does not have many opportunities.  That 26.7 percent shooting percentage last season came while averaging less than a shot on goal per game.  An offensive player is either going to have to generate more opportunities for himself, or he is going to have to do it for his teammates, and Perreault had fewer assists than goals both last season (14 to 16) and for his career (26 to 27).

In the end…

Alexander Semin bore the weight of being an “enigma” in his seven seasons in Washington, but in his own way Mathieu Perreault is every bit as enigmatic.  He is efficient (high shooting percentage), if not necessarily effective (low shot totals).  He plays in the middle, but lacks effectiveness as a playmaker (14 assists in 64 games last season, and he had the second highest quality of teammates at 5-on-5), and is decent if not extraordinary on faceoffs (50.8 percent last season, fifth best on the team among those taking at least 200 draws).  He put up very good offensive numbers last season, but there is the sense that it came with sheltered minutes.

Given where the Capitals are this season (if there is a season), it would seem that the 12 minutes a game he got last season is where Perreault could settle once more.  Now, can he duplicate that 26.7 percent shooting percentage?  Not likely.  Why?  Consider this.  Since the lockout only two forwards have played in at least 60 games in a season and finished with a shooting percentage of better than 25 percent.  One is Perreault.  The other, curiously enough, is Mike Ribeiro (25.2 percent in 2007-2008 with Dallas), also now with the Caps.  Only eight forwards playing in at least 60 games in a season since Lockout I finished better than 22 percent, including Perreault, and none of them more than once.

Mathieu Perreault is an example of perseverance and the presence to take advantage of an opportunity presented.  He also has managed to exhibit improvement at each level of play evidenced by his progress in juniors, the AHL, and with the Caps to date.  The object now is to marry opportunity to the ability to raise his game to “catch the good that is within his reach.”

Projection: 66 games, 12-14-26, plus-6

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America