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The New York Rangers won a season-high five straight games earlier this month. The end of December, however, isn't going nearly as well.
Having gone more than seven periods without scoring a goal, the Rangers hope to rediscover their offense and end a seven-game losing streak Saturday when they face the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden.
Five straight victories from Dec. 7-14 moved the Rangers (18-17-4) to the top of the Atlantic Division, but things have fallen apart in the last two weeks.
They have been outscored 29-11 during the seven-game skid, the franchise's longest since an eight-game slide from March 12-25, 2004. That losing streak, which included three overtime losses, was the result of a salary dump which saw Brian Leetch, Alex Kovalev and Martin Rucinsky traded.
New York started poorly Friday in a 1-0 loss at Ottawa, allowing Daniel Alfredsson's goal 32 seconds into the game and getting outshot 11-4 in the first period.
The Rangers picked up their play over the final 40 minutes, but were unable to beat Ray Emery and got shut out for the second consecutive game. They had been blanked only once in the first 37 games before Tuesday's 2-0 road loss to the New York Islanders.
"It doesn't make you feel a whole lot better to say we're playing better," New York's Brendan Shanahan said. "At this point I wouldn't care if we went out and played horrible and won. We're at the point where sick of it. Sick of hearing about it, sick of not getting results and it's not going to go away until we win."
Poor special teams play has also contributed to New York's struggles. The Rangers have converted only 10.8 percent (4 of 37) of their power-play opportunities during the skid, while killing off 24 of their opponents' 35 extra-man chances (68.5 percent) after an 84.3 percent penalty-kill rate in the first 32 games.
Washington (16-15-7) went down to its third straight loss Friday, 4-3 at New Jersey.
"It wasn't to be," said Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig, who stopped 30 shots. "They're an opportunistic team and they capitalized on some rebounds. We played hard and we can't hang our heads but at the same time, it's another loss."
Saturday concludes a stretch of four games in five nights for the Capitals, who have allowed 14 goals during the three-game skid.
Washington, which has lost five of six, got one of its ailing players back Friday as defenseman Shaone Morrisonn returned after a four-game absence due to mononucleosis.
With forwards Richard Zednik and Matt Bradley and defensemen Bryan Muir and John Erskine still sidelined, center Dave Steckel and defensemen Jamie Hunt and Timo Helbling were recalled from Hershey of the AHL and made their season debuts Friday.
Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin had one assist Friday, his 50th point of the season in his 38th game. He ranks fourth in the NHL in scoring.
These teams have split two games this season. The Rangers posted a 5-2 victory at home on Oct. 5 and the Capitals responded with a 3-1 win at Verizon Center on Nov. 11.
New York has won four straight against Washington at Madison Square Garden.