WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For Mathieu Perreault, it’s always special coming back to Washington, DC.
“Last year I wasn’t here for the trip, I was hurt. So I’ve only been back once when I was in Anaheim,” said Perreault. “It’s always exciting to come back to the building you’ve played in. Last time there were a lot of people with Perreault jerseys around the glass when I was in Anaheim so it was fun.”
The Drummondville, QC native was drafted by Washington in 2006, and played for the Capitals from 2009-2013. Then, after one season in Anaheim, Perreault signed with the Winnipeg Jets to begin the 2014-2015 season.
Now, sitting third in Jets scoring through 22 games, Perreault says the key to beating Washington, isn’t only to stop Alexander Ovechkin.
“They have a lot of offensive power and they can hurt you in the offensive end, so we have to make sure we’re playing well in our own end tonight,” Perreault said. “We like what we’ve been doing the last few games. Just trying to have the same mentality, no matter if we’re on the road or at home, our game shouldn’t change at all.”
Thanks to a 1-0 win over Edmonton on Monday, Washington comes into tonight’s contest with a 14-5-1 record, putting them second in the Metropolitan Division. While their offense still sits in the top 10, Jets head coach Paul Maurice says Washington’s commitment to their defensive structure is a big reason for their strong start.
“I just always felt playing Washington, the challenge was they were going to play an offensive game. If you could keep them out of that, then you were going to get yours as well,” he said. “It’s changed now. Defence is a critical piece to what they do and how they defend is really important.”
The stats back up Maurice’s comments. Washington has allowed the second fewest number of goals against in the NHL, with 44 in their 20 games played. A big reason for that has been the play of goaltender Braden Holtby, who has a 1.88 goals against average and a .928 save percentage in his 16 games.
But the Jets are a confident team. After winning two games out of a three-game home stand, captain Andrew Ladd says the team has been getting back to what makes them tough to play against.
“I think you can feel it in practice. We’re snapping the puck around, and back to the way we move the puck and the way we move our legs. We’ll try to build off some of the good things we did against Colorado,” said Ladd, who had an assist in that game. “We know we have a tough test tonight, we’re going to need to be ready.”
Maurice agrees, adding that he started to see the team’s quickness return starting back on November 16 against the Blues. But he says there is still room for the Jets, 5-6-1 on the road so far this season, to grow.
“Overall we were quicker in those games. Not as quick as we want to be defensively, but we got into some holes better offensively, moved the puck a little better, made some plays coming through the neutral zone,” said Maurice. “We did, and this is going to be a challenge here tonight, but we cut down on guys getting in behind our D…. We were a little better in those areas.”
Washington has won six of eight contests at Verizon Center this year, a place Perreault says is difficult to play in as a visiting opponent.
“Obviously they’ve got a good team, and they get some good fans. If they get a good start, usually the fans get pretty excited,” he said. “So it’s going to be important for us to have a good start and try to keep that crowd a little quiet.”
Ladd says he has been on the wrong end of the Verizon Center crowd a couple times during his three seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, and knows that’s just one of the challenges of playing the Jets former Southeast Division rival.
“It’s a good atmosphere. It’s fun place to come into and a tough building to come into on the road,” he said. “It will be a good test for us.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com