When Mathieu Perreault steps on the ice tonight in Uniondale, he will hit something of a milestone: his 21st game of the season, equaling the number of games he played in 2009-10. And while arguments and comparisons have been made ad nauseum related to how he stacks up against fellow rookie Marcus Johansson in the ongoing competition for a coveted top-six center spot on the current Caps' club, in some ways the more meaningful side-by-side pits "Matty P." against, well, himself. Some numbers to ponder (with the obligatory caveats related to the small sample size):
Nearly indistinguishable numbers across the board, other than in power-play ice time (and it's also worth noting that Perreault has five games with a point this season while he had eight games with points a season ago). Oh, and penalty minutes. It may not seem like much - three minor penalties - and it isn't. Except that in 2009-10, Perreault drew a whopping 2.4 penalties per sixty minutes at even strength and took just 0.8, while this year that differential has essentially reversed itself - 1.6 penalties taken per sixty and just 0.6 drawn. Something to keep an eye on.
Anyway, looking a little deeper, some larger differences emerge (all stats here are even strength):
|QualTeam||SF/60||SA/60||Corsi Rel||Corsi Rel QoT||OZone%||FinOZone%||Pts/60||GFON/60||PDO|
If your eyes glazed over at this last set of numbers, here's the long-and-the-short of it: Perreault is playing with far better players this year (think Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich) versus last year (think Chris Clark and Eric Fehr), and while his and the team's point and goal production has remained pretty constant (no small feat, given the team's huge drop-off this season), the Caps' puck possession with Perreault on the ice has vastly improved. You'd expect that, of course, given the improved linemates, but Perreault has gone from the worst relative Corsi among Caps centers to the best on the entire team (though the trend here is downward for the season overall). Moreover, he's been a zone-differential superstar, starting 57.8% of his shifts in the offensize zone and finishing there 57.5% of the time, which is a huge number in light of the expected 70% regression to 50% from zone starts to finishes (his 2009-10 numbers, for example, are in line with expectations). In other words, he's helping to set his teammates up for possession success by frequently handing them the puck in the offensive zone when he gets off the ice. All of those numbers are impressive, and given his more realistic or sustainable PDO this season, the improvements he's made from last season to this are understated by traditional scoring stats.
The bottom line here is that Mathieu Perreault is, for the most part, doing what is being asked of any second-year NHLer - improving, even if the boxcar stats don't necessarily say so. And it's reasonably clear from that he needs to be surrounded by talented players in order to succeed (which isn't a knock on him - not too many 23-year-olds, let alone sixth-round picks even get to the point where such observations are made about them), which puts Perreault in a bit of a "chicken-or-the-egg" scenario - when he isn't producing, he isn't getting quality ice time, which exacerbates his lack of effectiveness, etc., and vice versa. So perhaps for Perreault, it's "second line or bust" - play with top talent in order to be effective... or play elsewhere - which may mean that his time with the 2010-11 Capitals will soon be drawing to a close. But that's another post for another time.