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NHL sophomore standouts Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin teamed up over a week ago in the All-Star game on the Eastern Conference's starting line. But now they're back on opposite sides of the ice as Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins host Ovechkin's Washington Capitals on Saturday in a matchup of teams heading in very different directions.
The Penguins (25-17-8) are going for their season-high sixth straight win, while the Capitals (21-24-7) are trying to break out of a slump of seven losses in nine games. Despite the stark contrast in recent results, Crosby and Ovechkin are having similarly stellar seasons.
Crosby leads the league with 57 assists and 82 points, while Ovechkin has a league-high 33 goals and has 70 points. Crosby is riding an eight-game point streak with four goals and 13 assists, helping the Penguins compile an impressive 7-0-1 mark in that span.
He has four goals and seven assists in five career games against the Capitals, with Pittsburgh going 4-1 in those games.
Ovechkin, who edged out Crosby for last season's Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, has three goals and five assists in those matchups with the Penguins and has recorded a point in every game of 2007. His 13-game point streak is the longest in the NHL this season, and the Russian has eight goals and 12 assists during that stretch.
Ovechkin scored one goal for the East in its 12-9 loss to the West, but Crosby failed to record a point. He enjoyed playing with his contemporary, though, as both made their first appearances in the big game.
"It was nice. There's always so many comparisons. But for me, I think with my game I'm more of a playmaker and I think Alex is more of a shooter," Crosby told the team's official Web site. "It was great passing to someone like that. It would have been nice to set him up, but I couldn't get him the puck too often. Hopefully we get another crack at it and see what happens."
The Penguins took the first matchup between these teams, 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 11. The Capitals jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but Pittsburgh rallied back, and Evgeni Malkin scored the deciding goal in the shootout.
Crosby and Malkin each had a goal and an assist in that win, while Washington received two goals and an assist from Chris Clark and two assists from Ovechkin.
The Penguins have won two of their five games during their current winning streak via shootout, including a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Sergei Gonchar had two goals and an assist while Malkin - who added a goal and an assist - scored the deciding goal in the shootout.
The Penguins were 3-for-6 on the power play, continuing their superb play on the extra-man advantage of late as they have converted 37.5 percent (18-for-48) of their chances over the last eight games.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 40 shots Thursday, is undefeated in three career starts versus the Capitals. Washington netminder Olaf Kolzig is 1-4-1 with a 4.95 goals-against average in his last six starts against the Penguins.
He also struggled against the Florida Panthers on Thursday, tying his season-worst in goals allowed in a 6-3 defeat. The Capitals didn't give him much support early as they trailed 5-1 entering the final period before Ovechkin and Dainius Zubrus each scored.
"For us it's goals against, and it's not only on the road, it's all over," said Capitals coach Glen Hanlon, whose team is concluding a three-game road trip. "We can't be giving up six goals.
"We all have to take responsibility. We all have a job to do defensively and we'll keep working at it."
The Capitals are hoping defenseman Milan Jurcina will help that cause after acquiring him Thursday from the Boston Bruins in exchange for a fourth-round pick in next year's draft.