The more kinks that are ironed out at the beginning of the season, the better the chances of spring play. Several Washington Capitals speed bumps that need paving are player driven, ranging from veteran departures to injured players to under-performing forwards. Momentum continues to fluctuate as they search for reliable lower-line players and explosive first-line players.
Thankfully, individual struggles and the rotating lines have not impacted the team’s performance. The Capitals entered a Canadian road trip with 14 points and a 6-2-2 record. There are two players who can maintain the team’s winning ways, investing our hopes in a newcomer and a veteran: forward Garnet Hathaway and defenseman John Carlson.
Unpolished Player Performances
The speedbumps started in the summer when the Capitals lost valuable players during the offseason: fan-favorite Brett Connolly and Tom Wilson’s roommate, Andre Burakovsky. Those gaps were plugged by Hathaway, who signed a four-year, $6 million deal, and Richard Pánik, who signed a four-year, $11 million deal.
To put it bluntly: Pánik has underperformed. In eight games, he has not registered any points. He has progressively taken shorter shifts, clocking under eight minutes in the last two games. His time on special teams has dwindled and he’s a nonentity in shots, scoring chances, plus-minus and penalty minutes.
Good thing his impact has been so low because the Caps just placed him on long-term injury reserve with an upper-body ailment after a collision with teammate Jonas Siegenthaler on Oct. 16. Pánik will miss a minimum of 10 games. Siegenthaler suffered a better fate, formally listed as a game-time decision.
That leaves Hathaway.
A gap left by a veteran can open up room for younger players to prove their worth. Hathaway has done that in the young season.
Man of Many Facets
After four seasons with the Calgary Flames, Hathaway cannot be classified as a rookie, but he’s new to the Capitals’ roster. He signed with Washington as a free agent on July 1, 2019 with 16 goals, 24 assists and 219 penalty minutes in 175 career games. He cultivated a reputation as a gritty forward with an offensive prowess to match. It is no surprise that the no-quit Capital is quickly rising in favor with the fans. In a crowded field, Hathaway is a third-line essential.
Capitals head coach Todd Reirden summed up Hathaway’s value in one quote: “He is a special guy in terms of his compete, his battle and his character is really high end…When you have a guy that has a broken nose and comes back and then gets into a fight and draws a penalty on which we score on the power play, and then ends up scoring an empty-netter, that’s how it should work out. For a sacrifice like that, if you’re willing to do those things, that’s what – to me – being a Washington Capital is all about.”
Reirden was referencing the game on Oct. 18 against the New York Rangers, a shining moment for the American forward. Hathaway recorded one goal, one fight, one block, a plus-one rating and three hits. In the 5-2 win, he followed up a Jacob Trouba altercation with a fight against Brendan Smith. He suffered a broken nose in the fight but earned the Washington Nationals’ batting helmet as the Capitals’ most valuable player for the night. All he needed was an assist for a Gordie Howe hat trick, but maybe he tallied something more important. Should we call one goal, one fight and one penalty drawn a Hathaway hat trick? How about Garnet Hat-trick?
We’ll keep work-shopping that.
If Hathaway continues to use his game in all the right ways, he will become indispensable.
A Diamond Among Gems
Believing in Carlson is a no-brainer. Seeing is believing, so wait until you see these numbers.
Carlson recorded 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists) in 11 games. Only two other defensemen have hit the 18-plus point mark through their team’s first 10 games: legends Paul Coffey (3-17-20 in 1988-89) and Bobby Orr (2-16-18 in 1969 and 5-13-18 in 1973-74). By our estimation, Carlson is a legend.
The breakdown of those numbers is even more – wait for it – legendary. Before the Canadian road trip in the closing weeks of October, Carlson sat atop the NHL in points. He posted six multi-point games during a seven-game point streak. He also earned 11 primary points, by either scoring a goal or getting the first assist on a goal. More than half of his points were scored at even strength.
Yes, he is a legend.
Carlson was recognized for his standout statistics as the league’s second star for the week of Oct. 14-20, when he recorded one goal and seven assists in four games. David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins earned the first star with seven goals and two assists in three games.
Carlson continued his impressive play with his linemate, the recently-returned Michal Kempný, on Oct. 22 for a game against the Calgary Flames. It was another day and another superb showing. Two tallies by Carlson extended his career-high scoring streak to eight games and he became the fourth different defenseman in league history to register 20 or more points in the single month of October.
Carlson is not only making individual history, he is making team history. Washington has now won five of their first six road games, a first in franchise history. At 7-2-2, they will carry their fourth-straight win into a game against another Canadian team on Oct. 24, the Edmonton Oilers, as Carlson and Hathaway continue to carry the team on their backs.
We hope they didn’t miss leg day.