A City’s Love Affair with a Pint-Sized Playmaker Is Blossoming

Cup'pa Joe

Verizon Center had a new and novel synergy within its passion Friday night. On a couple of occasions Mathieu Perreault was chased out of the faceoff circle, and the soldout rink booed its displeasure. When the puck was on Perreault’s stick shouts of “Let’s go Matty!” could be heard from varying corners and levels of the rink. And a blossoming affection between a newcomer wearing no. 85 and this city’s red throng seemed consummated with Perreault’s game-winning, primary assist to Brian Pothier, which occasioned another memorable fit of oversized elation from the undersized playmaker.

  • On his very next shift, Perreault skated down the left side of the ice, leading the Caps’ attack into the Minnesota Wild zone with his two linemates perfectly spaced, and for the first time all evening the Verizon Center Red Army rose to its feet in anticipation, its passion piqued by the pizzaz of the pint-sized pivot. The Capitals didn’t score on that Perreault-led rush, but 18,000-plus in Verizon Center believed it quite possible they would. If Alexander Ovechkin’s signature celebration is his leap high into Verizon Center’s plexiglass, Mathieu Perreault’s is a bright-eyed, canyon-wide grin as he leaps into his teammates’ arms.
  •  In-game observation from this blog’s intern, regarding #85: “He’s so interesting to watch.” Indeed.
  • Of course HockeyWashington is falling hard for this kid. He’s got skill and razzle-dazzle up to his eyeballs, 165 of his 170 pounds are lodged in his heart, and he plays the game with the boundless joy of a 12-year-old out on the winter season’s first session of shinny on the farm pond. Prediction: there will be red Caps’ sweaters customized with #85 under a few Washington Christmas trees in six weeks’ time.
  • In the Caps’ locker room Wednesday night I met the bearded Perreault and explained to him that in the NHL beards appear in the league’s postseason. He smiled and laughed and admitted that he’s a bit of a creature of superstition when he’s playing well — he doesn’t shave. At this rate, he’ll look like Lincoln by New Years.
  • “It’s got to be the best hockey I’ve played,” he told me.
  • Perreault, on his reaction when Bears’ general manager Doug Yingst called him with news of his Washington assignment: “I was shaking at first. I couldn’t believe it. I knew Keith [Aucoin] was here, and he was playing good. I got my chance and I said to myself, ‘I just gotta take it.'”
  • “I called my dad right away. And first game [in Atlanta] was on RDS back home, so my family got to watch.”
How could you not fall hard for this kid?

How could you not fall hard for this kid?

  • Privileged to have had perhaps a dozen conversations with MP dating back to Capitals’ camps of three years ago, I asked him what he enjoyed most about his first week living his lifelong dream — being a big-leaguer. He first identified the warm and supportive reception he’s had from his Capitals’ teammates, but he quickly transitioned to travel as an NHLer. Perreault traveled long and hard by bus with the Bears last year, but as a three-season vet of the Q — Quebec is an unfathomably large province, and so Q leaguers spend most of winter within their wheeled chariots — he reflected on plane rides of an hour or two versus “seven hour bus rides . . . or seventeen-hour bus rides.”
  • Maybe Perreault will be the cause of the first lover’s spat between Hershey and Washington. Bears’ fans: “We want him back.” Caps’ fans: “You can’t have him.”
  • At a Capitals’ Rookie Development Camp a summer or two back I saw Perreault loosen up for a scrimmage off the ice by cradling a puck on his stick blade as if he were a lacrosse player. The puck stuck to his blade as if glued on while his wrists flicked the stick in his hands like a lacrosse stick. This went on for more than five minutes, the puck never coming close to falling to the ground. I was so mesmerized by this feat of virtuosity that I asked him if he’d he recreate it for me with the OFB video camera recording at this past summer’s camp. He agreed to. But very late in a scrimmage he took a brutal slash to a hand in a faceoff, and had to ice his wrist afterward. Obviously, we didn’t shoot. At September’s training camp I approached him again about making the video, and he very politely declined. He was attending Capitals’ training camp with the intention of making the roster, and now was not the time for fun and games, he explained. At this point in camp you had Nicklas Backstrom, Brendan Morrison, Michael Nylander, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Keith Aucoin all ahead of Perreault on the depth chart. Well, look who’s skating in a Caps’ sweater at center eight weeks later.
  • Perreault’s production — a goal and three assists in his first 5 NHL games — would be impressive were he skating 18 minutes a night. But he’s not. He’s skating about half that time. Gabby is managing his minutes masterfully.
  • Perreault may well have been the reassignment casualty for Ovi’s return to the lineup, but with Mike Knuble undergoing surgery for a broken finger, and likely out a solid month, the wager here is that we’ll have at least another month of deke-delight from #85.
  • Wes Johnson, get well soon. The rink won’t be the same without you.

Admin update: Here an interview with Perreault talking about the goal mentioned above, recorded on 18 Sept, 2008.

This entry was posted in Alexander Semin, Brian Pothier, Bruce Boudreau, National Hockey League, NHL, Verizon Center, Washington Capitals and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A City’s Love Affair with a Pint-Sized Playmaker Is Blossoming

  1. Great take as always from you guys. It’s obviously early, but the knock on this guy being too small for the NHL is beginning to be shown as being markedly wrong. The numbers crunch may catch up with him this year, but if Mathieu continues this level of play, all things considered, I believe he should make the roster outright next year.

  2. I see things as you do, Michael, and if and when the young man is returned to Hershey, imagine how much better he’ll be there for this experience.

  3. David McDonald says:

    I watched #85 play the last two games on TV and admire his skill and hustle… It was great to see Boudreau put him in as #6 shooter in the shoot out on Wednesday vs Isles.

  4. CapsFan1975 says:

    This may be a sign that things happen for a reason — for good or for bad. We all were wondering for a way to keep MP in the lineup after Ovi is back. So now we have our answer — unfortunately for poor Knubs. (We can now afford the cap hit, even with Nyls still “here”.)

    We also won’t yet be demoting a forward with a Point Per game average down to the third line (which would have happened when Ovi returns). Playing on a line with Perrault would make the demotion feel a little less bad but it would give MP a good offensive talent to play with.

  5. CapsFan1975 says:

    Perrault will probably be our full time 2nd line center when Brendan Morrison moves on. But we appreciate BMo’s contribution now.

  6. Matt says:

    I hope to see more ice time for him in the future. He’s been great. I find myself rooting for him with unexpected fervor every time he’s on the ice. Maybe it’s because I’m 5’10” myself. 🙂

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