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The Washington Capitals have thrived since their superstar returned, while the New Jersey Devils keep slipping following the loss of their future Hall of Famer.

The Eastern Conference foes cap off their home-and-home series Saturday night in New Jersey after the Capitals defeated the Devils 3-1 on Friday at the Verizon Center.

Washington (10-4-2) has won five in a row and has reached the 10-win plateau in the fewest games in 17 seasons, while New Jersey (7-7-2) has dropped four straight.

Alex Ovechkin assisted on Brooks Laich's first-period power-play goal and extended his goal-scoring streak to three games with an empty-netter with 20.5 seconds remaining.

After recording two goals and three assists in his first nine games, the reigning MVP and scoring champ has three goals and seven assists since a two-game absence to visit his ailing grandfather in Russia.

The Capitals are 5-0-1 and haven't allowed more than two goals in a game since Ovechkin's return.

"It's been four or five games in a row now that we've allowed just one or two goals," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told the team's official Web site. "If we can keep that up, I think our team is going to score some goals over the course of the year - so I think the solid defense is a much better indication of success than the goals scored."

Jose Theodore made his first start for Washington since Nov. 1 and made 32 saves, conceding only a third-period goal to Patrik Elias.

"I think the last game, playing two periods got the rust out of my legs," said Theodore, who played the final 40 minutes in Wednesday's 5-1 victory over Carolina after starter Brent Johnson left with a hip injury. "All day after practice I felt good and I knew I'd be ready for tonight's game."

Theodore improved to 5-13-0 lifetime against the Devils.

Alexander Semin's five-game scoring streak was snapped Friday when he left late in the second period with an undisclosed injury.

"He'll be fine (Saturday), as far as I know," Boudreau said.

With Semin scoring a goal in each of his last four games at New Jersey, the Devils (7-7-2) are likely hoping he doesn't return until the second game of the Caps' five-game road trip - Wednesday at Anaheim.

While Washington has outscored opponents 18-7 during its five-game winning streak, the Devils are 1-5-0 and have been outscored 18-8 since Martin Brodeur tore a biceps muscle on Nov. 1. Brodeur is expected to miss about four months.

"Not winning games is getting frustrating," Brian Gionta said after notching his eighth assist. "We've got to find a way to win games."

Scott Clemmensen, making his second start of the season, stopped 24 shots.

"I felt good with the way I played," Clemmensen told the Devils' official Web site. "Obviously I'm not happy with the outcome. I won't let that affect my confidence though. I'll be just as comfortable and confident next time out. If it's (Saturday) night, then great."

The teams split two meetings in New Jersey in 2007-08, but the Devils had won seven of their previous eight home games against the Caps.

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