Perreault Makes Case for Second-Line Duty

By JIm Iovino
|  Monday, Dec 13, 2010  |  Updated 2:49 PM EDT
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Perreault Makes Case for Second-Line Duty

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Mathieu Perreault

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You know those movies where the scruffy young kid grabs the "Help Wanted" sign out of the window of the town store, slaps it on the counter and eventually saves the old man's business?

That's pretty much what Mathieu Perreault did Monday night at the Verizon Center. Perreault saw that the Caps were in search of a second-line center, and darn it if he didn't pull an "I'm your huckleberry" on coach Bruce Boudreau by scoring twice against the Maple Leafs and playing perhaps the best overall game of his young career.

Had the Caps not blown a three-goal lead in the third period, Perreault's story would have led the coverage. He would have smiled from ear to ear in the locker room after the game. He'd be the talk of town -- at least among hockey fans.

The epic collapse stole the headlines. But even still, Perreault's coach gave his new second-line center (at least for now) some praise.

"If some of the other forwards had played with as much energy as him, we wouldn't have been in the situation we were in," Boudreau said matter-of-factly.

The Capitals know Perreault is skilled, and two-goal nights are not a surprise considering his talent. But the key will be whether or not the smallish centerman can keep this up as the NHL season grinds along. Perreault knows this, too.

"Every time I get called up, it seems like the first game I'm flying," he said. "Now it's just a matter of doing it every night."

Perreault made a strong opening statement Monday night against Toronto, scoring on his first shift since being recalled from the AHL. He and his linemates Alex Semin and Brooks Laich did it by practicing what Boudreau has been preaching lately: getting traffic in front of the net.

Semin grabbed a loose puck and pushed it to the point, and then, like rats zoning in on some delicious cheese, all three forwards headed straight to the front of the net. Tom Poti sent a wrister in from the point, and it was Perreault who was able to tip it down with his stick and through goalie Jonas Gustavsson's legs for a 1-0 lead.

And the ladies in the crowd went "Hey-o, Perreault!" Seriously, it was enough to make one Caps fan (who we won't identify in order to protect the innocent) send out the following tweet: "God, I love that dirty little Frenchie."

The swooning over Perreault wasn't done yet, however. The Caps were up 2-1 in the second period, but the Leafs were starting the grab the momentum with a couple of solid shifts in the Washington zone.

That's when Perreault struck again.

His line took control of the puck deep in the Leafs' zone, and eventually Laich skated out of the right corner and dished it to Perreault in the left circle. No. 85 showed patience, waiting for defenseman Carl Gunnarsson to make the first move. When he lunged one way, Perreault went the other. He slid to the right and fired a shot past The Monster to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. Oh, and who was that creating havoc in front? Alex Semin, who seemed to take his coach's message about getting his nose dirty in front to heart.

Semin and Laich tried to set up Perreault for the hat trick late in the third period, but he shot wide on his best scoring opportunity. He also got an opportunity in the shoot-out, but was stoned by Monster with a great stick save on what looked to be a sure goal.

So, despite the outcome on the scoreboard, Game 1 of the Perreault era as the team's second-line center went well. How long will it last? No one knows -- not even Perreault.

Best guess: He'll provide a spark and energy to help the team in the short term, but the Caps will more than likely have to keep an eye out for two-way center at the trading deadline.

Until then, enjoy what the Drummondville sparkplug adds to the Capitals' offense.

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