He may be the smallest Washington Capital, but Mathieu Perreault’s presence was felt throughout the roster Saturday night when the Capitals beat Atlanta 4-3 in overtime. Perreault, less than 24 hours after arriving in D.C. from Hershey, got a deafening reception from the Verizon Center crowd when announced as part of the starting lineup, and he brought his signature energy-play to the ice from the moment the puck dropped.
He got into a shoving match before the one-minute mark; he tenaciously fought for the puck on every shift; and he assisted Alexander Semin on two of Semin’s three goals during regulation, including a perfect pass to Semin near the net on the Caps’ second goal. Until Thomas Fleischmann scored in overtime, Semin and Perreault were the only two Capitals with points Saturday.
Brooks Laich, who wore an ‘A’ Saturday because Tom Poti was out of the lineup (“sore” and “hurt” was what Boudreau said in his post-game presser about Poti’s health), identified Perreault as a tireless worker.
“The ‘little dog,’ we call him,” Laich said. “He might be smaller than [a lot of] guys, but he competes as hard as anybody, I think, on the ice. I think he’s very shifty, very strong on the boards. And you just look at tonight — two of the plays he’s able to go into traffic and make a play out of it.”
Despite calling Perreault the “catalyst” of the third period, Boudreau doesn’t seem ready to make a commitment to second-line center.
“The best game Marcus [Johansson] played was the last game too, and then Fleisch[mann] got the overtime winner, and Stecks [David Steckel] won every faceoff down the stretch, and Nicky’s [Backstrom] Nicky,” Boudreau said, then joked, “I think if we put Nicky on waivers, somebody’d claim him.”
The three players with the best plus/minus on the team have all spent time on the second line. Laich and Semin, the second line’s two wingers, boast the Capitals’ best plus/minus at their positions, a noteworthy accomplishment considering the line has seen four different centers and for a roster that includes Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Knuble. Center Thomas Fleischmann has a plus/minus rating of 5, one higher than Semin’s and one lower than Laich’s.
“I think defensively, we can stay out of trouble,” Laich said of the second line. “When we get into our zone, we try and get the puck out in 5, 10 seconds and go on the attack.”
The Capitals only allowed one goal on the penalty kill Saturday but were scoreless on three power play chances after a Mike Green power play goal (created by the Capitals actually taking a shot on goal and getting traffic to the net) was determined to be a kick-in and overturned.
Laich said, however, he thought the power play took at step in the right direction Saturday.
“Power plays go through ups and downs,” he said. “A lot of the times before you start scoring, you end up having good movements and good chances and good looks at the net, and then all the sudden the floodgates open . . . Now we’ve just got to shoot the puck a little bit more and crash the nets a little more.”
Green, who dressed for the first time since October 13, played only on the power play but performed well, including one sprawling dive to keep the puck in Atlanta’s zone.
“We made the decision before the game [that], you know, we’ll see how Mike is — if he’s comfortable, we’ll play him more, but the intent was to play him on the power play and go with five [defensemen],” Boudreau said of Green’s limited playing time.
With Poti out and Green relegated to the power play, the Capitals had only five defensemen to rotate for playing time on the ice. Rookie John Carlson finished with the most time of all defensemen.
Finally, Caps goalie Michael Neuvirth had a scary moment when the Thrashers’ Dustin Byfuglien sent him flying over the net — David Steckel and Jason Chimera exchanged words with the Thrashers, but it was John Erskine who swooped in to defend his goalie. Erskine said it looked like Neuvirth was out, so he knew something had happened. Byfuglien got a charging penalty and a game misconduct, and Neuvirth finished out the game.