Together, the three players make up the Washington Capitals’ reinvented fourth line. When they are on, as they have been in the past handful of games, they bring an elevated level of energy, scoring and grit to the ice. They are the ideal complement to the Capitals’ top six forwards. The disruptive trio showed up again in Tuesday’s 5-2 win against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center, where they were arguably the best line on the ice.
Hathaway scored two goals, Dowd had two assists, and without any penalties to kill, the fourth line was able to show off its ability to create in the offensive zone. During five-on-five play against the Sharks, the fourth line had 11 shot attempts, allowed four, recorded eight shots on goal and scored two goals in 10 minutes 13 seconds of ice time. Entering the second of back-to-back games Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings, Hathaway has four goals and five assists this season, recording his first multi-point game as a Capital. Dowd has two goals and four assists in 18 games while Leipsic has three goals and five assists in 29.
“So important, so many people don’t know about fourth-line power,” said Jakub Vrana, who also scored two goals Tuesday against San Jose. “I think it is so important, and it is a big part of winning games and a big part of the [penalty kill], too. . . . They are playing hard and making it hard for the opposite team.
After taking a plethora of minor penalties this season, the Capitals finally were able to keep out of the box, which led to more offensive chances. The time on ice was spread out among all four lines, with no forward other than Alex Ovechkin getting more than 20 minutes of ice time. Dowd recorded the shortest time on ice with 11:09.
“It’s big; obviously they played a lot tonight, and they’ve been playing great all year for us,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “A big part of that was probably it was the most disciplined we’ve been all year, and those guys weren’t playing those hard minutes on the PK and got to go out and have some fun in the [offensive] zone.”
General Manager Brian MacLellan talked about the makeup of the fourth line throughout the offseason when he was looking for the right additions. After the Capitals’ first-round playoff exit against Carolina last season, the need for bottom-six forward depth was clear.
When Dowd, Hathaway and Leipsic have been together at even strength, the Capitals have scored five goals while allowing three, according to Natural Stat Trick. They are enjoying a 33-16 advantage in even-strength scoring chances over 67 minutes this season.
“I think we wanted a different identity on our fourth line was the main goal,” MacLellan told reporters last week. "We wanted a combination of everything: the ability to penalty-kill, score a little bit and be physical. And again, in the small sample size, I think we’ve found it in Leipsic, Dowd and Hathaway.”
Tuesday was the third game back with that combination since Dowd returned from his hand injury and Hathaway returned from his three-game suspension after his spitting incident involving Anaheim’s Erik Gudbranson on Nov. 18.
Now the chemistry is clear. Hathaway said the line works well when it is are able to create turnovers early, limit its own and then work the opposition down low.
“That is what we always envisioned with them and now we got them back together again, and I think they have picked up where they left off,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. "They’ve been good all year together and nice to see them get rewarded with some goals, especially for Garnet. Hasn’t been the easiest of the last six or seven games for him. They really set the tone for our team, and everyone hops on board with their work ethic and compete.”
Hathaway and Dowd in particular not only fit well on the ice but off it. The two have a podcast called “Between Two Blue Lines.” They talk about all things hockey, the nuances of the game and being on the road — and really just have fun.
As for their play on the ice, their teammates couldn’t heap enough praise onto the gritty group.
“They are flying around out there,” defenseman John Carlson said. “I think they are really good defensively, and Dowder is really good in the faceoff circle, and it’s good to see them get rewarded. It seems like they’ve been all around the net probably the last five or six games. Pop a couple in, and I think you always want everyone feeling good, and I think that achieved that [Tuesday].”