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Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway scuffles with Anaheim Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson during a game on Nov. 18, 2019, in Washington.

Nick Wass/The Associated Press

Garnet Hathaway was ejected for spitting on an opponent and now the Washington Capitals winger may have to swallow more punishment from the NHL.

Hathaway was given a match penalty for spitting on Anaheim defenceman Erik Gudbranson in a brawl during the Capitals’ 5-2 victory Monday. That carries with it an automatic suspension pending a review by the NHL, and it is likely the Capitals won’t have Hathaway in the lineup Wednesday night in New York against the Rangers.

There is little precedent for Hathaway’s actions, other than the part of the rule book that deems it worthy of an ejection and the league’s process of having its hockey-operations department review each match penalty. Boston’s Brad Marchand was warned during the playoffs last spring about licking opponents, but was not suspended.

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A decision from the league’s hockey-operations department could come as late as Wednesday morning.

“You never want to sit and leave guys hanging and not be able to help out,” Hathaway said. “It would be unfortunate if I wasn’t [playing], but they are a team that can handle themselves and not worried about them in the outcomes of games.”

A day after drawing scorn from Gudbranson and the Ducks and generating buzz for spitting, Hathaway reiterated his remorse about the incident that took place late in the second period.

“I regret doing it,” Hathaway said. “I didn’t have any arms free and made an emotional decision that I wish I didn’t, but right now I am trying to move on from it and there is nothing that I can do but apologize.”

Hathaway has been a strong addition for the Capitals, putting up two goals and five assists and adding some grit that was missing last season. Now they’ll likely have to compensate for his absence for at least a game, if not longer.

“I don’t think anyone needs to step up and be Garnet Hathaway,” forward Travis Boyd said. “We got guys who will do that stuff. Maybe someone has to pick up a little bit of physicality for the night, or someone else has to go out there and get a couple of hits. Ultimately, we’ll see what happens with him, and we’ll hope to get him back as soon as we can.”

Washington is right up against the US$81.5-million salary cap ceiling and has the minimum of 18 healthy skaters on the roster. Because of that, coach Todd Reirden said there would be some roster moves to make sure his team has a full lineup in New York.

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“We’re really trying to find every possible option to stay away from playing short,” Reirden said. “That may happen one day, too, but certainly trying to find every way possible. We want to give ourselves the best chance we can, and that’s to have a full complement of players.”

Winger Carl Hagelin has missed six games with an undisclosed upper body injury, and centre Nic Dowd has missed the past three with a deep cut on his left hand. Hagelin skated in a no-contact jersey Tuesday, while Dowd remains out with an injury Reirden cryptically called “a little bit more serious than we anticipated.”

The Capitals could put Hagelin or Dowd on long-term injured list to save cap space, though that would necessitate either player missing a total of 10 games and 24 days.

The Ducks were angry at Hathaway for what they called disrespectful behaviour but didn’t want to speculate what might happen next.

“I have no idea,” Gudbranson said. “I’ll trust the league with that.”

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