The first time Alexander Ovechkin faced the New York Rangers this season, the Washington Capitals star was mired in an early season slump.
The league's reigning MVP and scoring champ has since regained his offensive touch as the Caps come to Madison Square Garden for the rematch in a battle of division leaders.
Ovechkin had two goals and six assists through the first 11 games of 2008-09, a season after a 65-goal, 47-assist performance that earned him the Hart Trophy. He was held without a point in six of those 11 contests, including a 3-1 home win over New York on Nov. 8.
Following that victory, Ovechkin scored a goal in five straight games and went on a 10-game point streak. He has 18 goals and 17 assists in the past 21 games, giving him 20 goals and 23 assists on the season.
Ovechkin has gone without a point just three times since that Nov. 8 game. One of those, however, came Saturday in a 7-1 loss at Philadelphia.
The defeat snapped a five-game win streak for the Southeast Division-leading Capitals (20-11-3). Ovechkin also had a six-game point streak end, and he'll look to bounce back against the Rangers, as he has seven goals and six assists in 13 meetings with New York.
A big game from Ovechkin, however, might not matter if Washington doesn't tighten up defensively and get better goaltending. Brent Johnson yielded three goals in the first two periods before being lifted for Jose Theodore, who missed the previous four games with a hip injury.
Theodore didn't fare much better, giving up four goals on 15 shots, so the Capitals will give another start to Johnson on Tuesday. Johnson stopped 28 shots in the Nov. 8 win over the Rangers and is 2-0-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average versus New York.
"We're waiting for one to come and say, 'Hey listen, I'm the guy. Go to me all the time,'" Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That only comes with the way you play."
While Ovechkin has been hot of late, the Capitals will be without their other top scorer, Alexander Semin, for a second straight game. Semin, who has 14 goals and 18 assists, missed Saturday's game after being cross-checked in the back against St. Louis on Thursday.
Semin, who missed 12 games earlier this season with back problems, had recorded a point in five straight games since returning.
Washington will also be without top defenseman Mike Green, who's re-aggravated the shoulder injury that caused him to miss 11 games. Green has eight goals and 12 assists this season.
The Rangers (22-12-2) are looking to solidify their three-point lead in the Atlantic Division as they open a three-game homestand. New York closed a three-game California road trip with a 3-2 loss to San Jose on Saturday.
The Rangers had their three-game winning streak snapped despite outshooting the NHL-leading Sharks 17-7 in the third period.
"It was a tough way to finish the trip," defenseman Wade Redden said. "We'll get back and have one (home game) before Christmas, and we'll try to make it a good one."
Nikolai Zherdev scored for the third time in five games for New York. However, Markus Naslund, whose 12 goals tie him with Zherdev for the team lead, was held without a point for the third straight game.
New York has won six straight at MSG against the Capitals, although Washington has taken the last three meetings.