17 March 2008

Eric the Battler

(because Eric the Ready is too goofy.) From Thrashers.com

Feature: Eric The Ready
By anticipating everything, penalty killer extraordinaire Eric Perrin is not surprised by anything
By Jon Newberry
Mar 17, 2008, 5:05 PM EDT

You can't teach confidence. You either you have it or you don't.

Eric Perrin has it.

The 32-year-old center may only be completing his second full NHL season (third overall), but as the all-time leader in goals at the University of Vermont, a star performer internationally in Finland and Sweden, and owner of a Stanley Cup ring (earned with the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning), he knows what it takes to be successful both as an individual and as a team.

"Confidence and trust are the big things," said Perrin, who entered play March 18th third on the Thrashers in points (41, one behind Mark Recchi), has set a new career high in assists (29) and points (41), and is one goal away from matching his career high set last season. "The key to a great team to take it to the next level, is they play as a five-guy unit when they're on the ice and they're playing with confidence, they trust each other. We all know there are going to be mistakes made, but it's how you recover from it."

Perrin feels that those traits have at times abandoned this team and has put them in their current difficult position of chasing the final playoff spot.

"Sometimes, the attitude we approach with is a little bit of nervousness in our game instead of playing confident," he said. "Sometimes our brains shut off and we forget what we're doing out there and other teams capitalize on it. We get lapses."

Perrin's ability to act and react with confidence has been vital to a Thrashers' penalty unit that has tallied 11 shorthanded goals, tied for fourth in the league, even while it has struggled with consistency, killing 78.8 percent of penalties (27th in the league).

"We take advantage of some opportunities from the other team," said Perrin. "That's important sometimes to maybe catch them while they don't think they're going to get pressured. You apply some pressure and sometimes you get a forward playing on defense and you've got to take advantage of those situations. We don't want to change our style, which is an aggressive style penalty kill. We had a rough start at the beginning of the year and I think that since we've changed our mentality a little bit about it it's been going a lot better for us.

"The primary thing in the penalty kill is to make sure you take care of your zone," he added. "I think it has to be a little bit of anticipating the play. It's anticipation but you have to control that urge of maybe wanting to be at a place where you think the puck is going because you've got some smart players that will read that if you commit too early. So you have to be smart defensively."

A tribute to Perrin's effectiveness is that the PK unit has thrived in the wake of the trade of Marian Hossa and Perrin's close friend, Pascal Dupuis. After the addition of Colby Armstrong the unit strung together a stretch of PK perfection, fending off 16 consecutive shorthanded situations.

"Whenever you have new guys and a new system you don't want to force things or get too fancy," said Perrin. "Just try to keep things simple and try to work their defensemen down low, just the same as all the teams do and go from there. We're all creative players."

According to television analyst and SI.com columnist Darren Eliot, a key to Perrin's ability to turn the tables and make a defensive situation into an offense opportunity has been his aggressiveness and picking his spots, a lesson he learned from former teammate Brad Richards.

"On the penalty kill, he looks for opportunities once [the puck is] cleared, once he's done his job defensively," Eliot said. "So you have to read the play, you have to have good read-and-react skills but he's looking also to make plays once it's out of the zone and that's where he's had some offense this year. He said he got that from playing with Brad Richards. Richards told him, 'Don't always just shoot the puck down the ice and have them come back at us. If you get the puck, if you have the puck, look for a play and we'll start looking for one another.' You start getting some chemistry like he had with Pascal Dupuis, where you jump into a hole and suddenly they create something.

"Eric Perrin is a very self-effacing, a very humble guy, to give credit to Brad Richards in that regard," Eliot added. "But we saw it here with the Thrashers this year, Eric Perrin really knows how to make offense in a man-down situation."

Perrin has already set franchise single-season records for shorthanded assists (a league-leading seven) and shorthanded points (nine).

Eliot credits also Perrin's desire as much as his smarts for his success.

"He seems to come through in big moments," said Eliot. "He competes hard every single night. He's had times when the game is on the line where he's been at his best. I can see why he was part of a Stanley Cup-winning team in Tampa. I can see why as a small player he's been able to be successful because he just has this will to compete."

That will to compete sparked the Thrashers on Feb. 28 against the New York Islanders, who nearly stole a victory.

Early in the second period, already trailing 3-0 and a man down, Perrin stole the puck and broke in on Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro. But he had his legs taken out from under him by defenseman Bryan Berard and was awarded a penalty shot.

On the resulting penalty shot, the Thrashers center skated in did a quick, short deke to the backhand, whipped the puck back to the forehand, leaving a sprawled DiPietro helpless and out of position, then easily buried the shot into the open net. The goal was the first home penalty shot converted by a Thrasher since Marian Hossa scored on Oct. 21, 2006, beating Florida's Alex Auld, and pulled Atlanta back into a game it would twice tie before falling in overtime.

Perrin admits he's more confident in one-on-one confrontations like the one with DiPietro and he has become one of the Thrashers' more reliable shootout performers. He is two-for-four on the season, with both of his goals being game-deciders.

"The first thing is confidence. That's the primary thing," said Perrin, who was 0-for-4 heading into the 2007-08 season. "If you're going in there and just get so nervous, you psych yourself out. You've got to go in there with a clear mind, kind of be like, 'I'm going to try this. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't.' This year I'm playing with a lot more confidence and I try to do that in my shootouts, too."

Perrin, who makes his living playing against the odds, firmly believes the Thrashers can defy the numbers, which don't favor the team's getting into postseason and that neither he nor his teammates have given up.

"Absolutely not. We're far from that," he said. "We have to stop looking at the standings. We have to just start focusing on what we have to do because we can't control the rest. We can only control what we can do."

Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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