After a brief skid, the Washington Capitals have returned to form with a vengeance. The New York Islanders, meanwhile, just keep looking worse.
Washington will try to build off a victory over the best team in the Eastern Conference on Monday afternoon when they visit the league-worst Islanders, who are hoping to avoid their eighth consecutive loss.
The Capitals (29-14-3) had won seven in a row and 12 of 13 overall after a shootout victory over Philadelphia on Jan. 6, but slumped after that. Washington lost three straight, and leading scorer Alex Ovechkin didn't have a goal, part of a rare four-game drought for the reigning Hart Trophy winner.
But Ovechkin had two goals and an assist in a 6-3 win at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, then Alexander Semin scored the game-winner in an exciting 2-1 victory over East-leading Boston on Saturday.
"We're going to go through ups and downs. Obviously losing three games wasn't fun," said Jose Theodore, who made 23 saves to improve to 16-8-1. "But I think sometimes it's good to take one step back, and against Pittsburgh we really played our system and really played well. We just kept doing the same thing tonight."
Theodore had a 3.32 goals-against average on Dec. 23, but the former league MVP has turned it around over the last month as Washington has started to pull away in the Southeast Division. He's 7-2-0 with a 1.99 GAA in his last nine starts, allowing one goal in four of those.
Though Ovechkin has scored in only one of his last six games, Semin - second on the team with 18 goals - has stepped up. He has four goals in his last four games, including his fourth game-winner of the season on Saturday.
"Wish he'd shoot more," coach Bruce Boudreau said of Semin. "I mean, he's got that kind of shot, he's got that kind of individual talent - you can see it all the time."
It's been Ovechkin - second in the NHL with 29 goals - who has torched the Islanders this season. He had a goal and two assists in Washington's 5-2 home win on Dec. 4, then scored twice, including in overtime, of a 5-4 victory on Long Island on Dec. 16.
The Islanders' first loss to the Capitals started a six-week stretch during which they've picked up a point in only four of 21 games. New York is 2-17-2 since then, and has dropped seven straight.
Offense has been increasingly difficult to come by for the Islanders. They've scored just one goal in each the first three games of their five-game homestand, and none until the third period of Saturday's 3-1 loss to New Jersey.
"We didn't play for two periods, and that pretty much says it all," New York first-year coach Scott Gordon said. "Not many teams can afford to play like we did for two periods like we did. We're in that category."
Leading goal-scorer Bill Guerin (14) has only three in his last 18 games, while second-leading scorer Trent Hunter (11) has gone 17 straight without finding the back of the net. Hunter's last goal came in the Dec. 4 loss at Washington.
The Islanders haven't lost eight consecutive games in regulation since dropping nine in a row from Dec. 22, 1997-Jan. 10, 1998.