Not everyone can be an Alex Ovechkin who is always a threat to score. Most players have to find other ways to impact a game on a nightly basis and provide value for their team. Garnet Hathaway has found ways to impact games this season and could possibly have himself in line for a top-line role during the Capitals' upcoming two-game road trip.
For the past two days of practice, Hathaway has skated as the right wing on the top line. On Wednesday he skated with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. On Thursday, it was with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom.
Granted, all line combinations in practice this week need to be taken with a grain of salt. Oshie and Backstrom have been out sick with a non-COVID illness since Sunday and did not skate until Thursday. On Thursday, Ovechkin and Kuznetsov were both out for maintenance days. Someone has to skate on the top line when those players are out.
Having said that, head coach Peter Laviolette certainly made it sound as if Hathaway was more than a placeholder.
"We're going in to play a couple of heavy teams and I think Hath just brings an element where he provides on the forecheck and net-front presence," Laviolette said.
Typically playing on the fourth line, Hathaway has a knack for getting under the skin of opponents. In the team's win over the Nashville Predators on Dec. 29 it seemed like the entire Predators team wanted to fight him. Hathaway has also found production on the fourth line with seven goals and five assists.
"He's been producing a lot this year, he's scoring a lot of goals," Backstrom said. "But I think what he brings to the lineup every night, his energy, he’s physical. He can play both ways, I think. Plays PK, big numbers there. I just think that, overall, he's a pretty good all-around player. All those guys are so important for our team. He's been great this year."
"He's just one of those guys, he's high-octane all the time and I think he's done a lot of great things on the ice for our team this year and certainly in a number of different ways," John Carlson said.
On most nights, Hathaway plays with Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin. Laviolette has kept that line together as much as possible and they have generated positive results. They have a 52.06% Corsi-For percentage at 5-on-5 and are able to drive play.
"I feel like my game's pretty detail-oriented," Hathaway said.
He added, "Any 50/50 puck battle, just trying to come out with it like that or being defensively reliable too. Be in the right spot to help myself, but help other guys. And then, I think offensively I've gotten in a better groove of being in a better position to get more opportunities to shoot the puck more."
But a fourth-line role is much different than a top-line one. Instead of trying to hem teams in the offensive zone and wear them down for the top line to take advantage, he will be expected to help drive the play offensively.
"Those guys do things differently than maybe Hags and Dowder do, but, depending on who you're playing with, you can't change how you play," Hathaway said, "But you have to know how the other guys are playing as well."
The Caps have found success on the top line using Tom Wilson on the wing. His physical presence allows him to win puck battles and create space for his skilled linemates as opponents have to account for him. Though Wilson has more offensive skill than Hathaway, Hathaway hopes to play a similar role on the top line.
It remains to be seen if Hathaway will get a chance to play in the top-six. Laviolette was non-committal on if Backstrom and Oshie would travel with the team after returning from the ice on Thursday. If the team is at full strength, perhaps Laviolette will go with a more normal lineup and push him back down to his normal role on the fourth line. Hathaway himself said after Wednesday's practice, "The lineup changes every day. I think you've seen with the Caps this year nothing's set in stone."