By Tarik El-Bashir
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The moment the puck sneaked between the goalie's pads, the diminutive Washington Capitals prospect dropped to one knee and did a two-armed fist pump, lifting his stick high in the air.
"I blacked out," Mathieu Perreault joked about his first NHL goal celebration during last Saturday's 7-4 win over the Florida Panthers. "I never did that before."
It was exuberant and conspicuous -- just like Perreault's play since joining the Capitals last week. In three games since being recalled from the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears as an injury replacement, he's amassed a goal, two assists and a plus-minus rating of plus three, despite receiving only modest ice time on the fourth line.
"He's had a great week," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "His energy, his tenacity, his pedigree. I say that because he was the MVP of the Quebec [Major Junior Hockey League] and sometimes you see a guy for the first time and you wonder, 'How could he be the MVP of the league?' Then you watch him and you see how he's a pain to play against and how he competes so hard. Coaches love guys who compete hard."
The fervor with which 21-year-old Perreault plays, in fact, is the first thing anyone notices about the 2006 sixth-round draft pick. Generously listed at 5 foot 10, 174 pounds, the Drummondville, Quebec native makes up for his lack of size with determination and guile. Perreault is quick, does not shy away from the corners, and perhaps most important, is adept at avoiding checks from bigger players.
"I try to be shifty so I don't get hit," he said. "I turn my shoulder to get out of the way."
That shiftiness also helps Perreault shed defenders, find open ice and do what he does best: make plays. In his NHL debut in New Jersey last Wednesday, Perreault set up Tyler Sloan with a nifty backhanded dish, then earned a secondary assist on Tomas Fleischmann's goal. In his second game, Perreault was robbed of an assist when his crossing pass nicked the skate of defenseman Brian Pothier. In his third game, Perreault had a night he won't soon forget.
He plucked the puck from rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov behind the net, wrapped it around banked it between the pads of Scott Clemmensen to spark a five-goal third period.
"I just went on one knee," Perreault said of his celebration. "And then I thought, 'Why did I do that?' "
His knack for piling up points shouldn't come as any surprise. He won the QMJHL scoring title with 114 points in 2007-08, then notched 50 points (11 goals, 39 assists) as a first-year pro with the Bears last season. He also had two goals and six assists in the playoffs to help Hershey claim its 10th Calder Cup.
Perreault said the transition from the AHL has been easier with José Theodore sitting in the locker stall next to him. Theodore, a former Montreal Canadien, was one of Perreault's heroes as a boy and has taken his fellow French Canadian under his wing.
"I'm helping him a little bit with learning to be consistent, [which] is what you need to play in the NHL," Theodore said. "When you get called up, you're so excited, you play like it's the Stanley Cup finals. But you have to make sure that you stay consistent in how you practice and how you play so that doesn't fade away."
Perreault doesn't know how long his stay in Washington will last, and because of that, he hasn't yet invited his family to come watch him play. But with each point he scores, he's making it harder for the Capitals to justify sending him back to Hershey.
"If he keeps playing the way he's playing," Boudreau said. "We'll have to find a way to keep him."
Capitals Notes: Alex Ovechkin skated before the team practiced Tuesday morning and said he continues to inch closer to returning to the lineup, though he wasn't prepared to say when. "Right now, I feel better every day," he said. I'm "probably day to day. I just need a couple more days, maybe one week. If it was the playoffs, I'm playing for sure." . . . Alexander Semin (right wrist) returned to practice and is expected to play Wednesday. . . . Defenseman Mike Green is expected to play, as well, after missing Saturday's game with an upper body injury. . . . Defenseman Jeff Schultz, however, will miss a second straight contest with lower body injury. . . . Center Boyd Gordon made it through a second full day of practice and hopes to return this weekend from a back injury that has sidelined him for nearly a month. . . . A team official said he does not expect an update on Michael Nylander's status until Wednesday at the earliest. The veteran center cleared waivers on Monday and is not expected to rejoin the team this season.