Forward Mathieu Perreault blending in on Caps' third line

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 11:07 PM

At first glance, Mathieu Perreault shouldn't have been able to gain control of the puck from his spot in the slot during the first scrimmage of Washington Capitals training camp. But there the undersized forward was, managing to create space for himself while giving up three inches and 15 pounds to Tomas Fleischmann, who was nearly draped on top of him.

Perreault took two shots off of rebounds as he outmuscled his opponent and was rewarded with a goal to put his group up 5-0 in the contest and reminded everyone watching he's eager to earn a spot on the Capitals' opening-night roster.

Through the first four days of on-ice sessions, Perreault has blended in seamlessly on a line with veterans Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr. That combination, coaches say, is one of the best early on, thanks in part to Perreault's play. It's also likely the line sees some time on the ice Wednesday at Nationwide Arena, when the Capitals visit the Columbus Blue Jackets for their preseason opener.

"This is exactly what I wanted to do, to be able to play good with these guys from the start," Perreault, 22, said. "This is a line that could be together this year and I'm very happy with the way things have gone so far. If you, as a third line, can score a goal or two every now or then, it's going to make this team even better and that's all I want."

Perreault, a native of Drummondville, Quebec, arrived in Washington resolute this would be the season he cracks the NHL roster and becomes a mainstay for the Capitals. The open spot, he said, "is mine. I've just got to prove it."

Following the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, after Perreault wrapped up a successful year as the No. 2 center for the Hershey Bears during their second consecutive Calder Cup-winning season, the organization's brass asked him to add some weight. He gained 10 pounds to reach 175 for this season. So far, it doesn't seem to have diminished the 5-foot-10 Perreault's trademark speed; it's only improved his ability to battle for the puck in corners and the faceoff circle.

"He's always been a guy - since day one, when he came in here for his first development camp - who has worked so hard," assistant coach Dean Evason said. "I remember that first camp, he wasn't in the greatest shape. At the end of practices or skates he would really struggle. We sat him down and said, you have to be in better shape to play the way he does, because he's just endlessly working. He's done all the right things that we've asked him to do as far as conditioning."

What Perreault lacks in size advantage he makes up for with his quickness and elusive nature as a puck carrier. In an almost-constant state of motion, he avoids hits while simultaneously creating offensive opportunities.

Those playmaking traits helped him pick up where he left off with Fehr and Chimera, whom he played with a few times during his 21 games with the Capitals last season. He's fast enough to keep up with Chimera and is always looking to feed the puck to a shooter like Fehr.

"I think [playing with Perreault] creates a little more opportunity," Fehr said. "He really likes having the puck on his stick; you can see when he's stick handling, he's setting up the next pass. He's a really shifty player and it's great for guys like him, smaller guys, to control the puck where it's easier for guys like Chimera and me to get open for him and make plays. He's a very easy player to play with."

All that's left for Perreault now, as he prepares to enter the final year of his entry-level contract, is to continue transferring his success forward from scrimmages and practices to the preseason.

"It's great to see," Evason said. "He's motivated, he's in great shape physically, he's stronger and he's got a real opportunity to make our hockey club."

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