Led by arguably the top line in the NHL, the Ottawa Senators have been by far the best team in the Eastern Conference. The goaltending of Martin Gerber, though, has played just as big a role in their success.
The surging Senators seek their fourth winning streak this season of at least four games on Saturday night when they host the Washington Capitals.
Ottawa's best players were just that in a 5-2 home victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday.
The line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley combined for two goals and three assists, and Gerber turned away 25 shots as the Senators coasted to their third straight win.
Antoine Vermette, Nick Foligno and Mike Fisher also scored for Ottawa (25-8-4), which is 9-1-1 in its last 11 games. The Senators lead the East with 54 points - five behind Detroit for the league lead.
"The bottom line is we're back to playing well," Heatley said. "I thought we played pretty solid tonight. Three in a row, you know, that's the most important thing."
Spezza, who has eight goals and 11 assists during a nine-game point streak, recorded his 300th NHL point on his 13th goal of the season at 1:01 of the second period. Heatley, the team leader with 23 goals and 50 points, has nine goals and eight assists in his last 10 contests.
Alfredsson has at least one point in 13 of his last 14 games, tallying six goals and 12 assists during that span.
Gerber figured to serve as Ottawa's backup again this season, but Ray Emery's offseason wrist surgery gave him a chance to take control of the starting job. Gerber has played so well - ranking among the league leaders in wins (19) and save percentage (.926) - that Emery has been relegated to backup status.
Emery stopped the only shot he faced during a shared shutout with Gerber on Dec. 12 before leaving that game five minutes in with a hip injury. He has started only one of Ottawa's eight games since.
Gerber, meanwhile, has gone 6-1-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average in those eight appearances.
"I think we have a good relationship - it's got nothing to do with us personally," Gerber said. "Both guys want to play and that's the way it is."
Emery has played well when called upon, going 3-0-3 with a 2.70 GAA in his last seven games.
Washington (14-19-5) gave up a late third-period goal and lost 4-3 in overtime at Pittsburgh on Thursday.
"I think the whole third period ... we just weren't ourselves," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "We didn't have enough energy, we were turning the puck over. We ended up taking a penalty because they're flying and we're not."
Olaf Kolzig made 16 saves after Brent Johnson sprained his left knee late in the first period. Johnson will be out at least a week.
Kolzig, who is 1-2-3 with a 3.24 GAA in his last six games, will start Saturday.
The Capitals, tied with Tampa Bay for the fewest points in the East, played most of the third period without star forward Alex Ovechkin, who needed several stitches to close a cut on his leg. Ovechkin, second in the league with 26 goals, is not expected to miss any games.
Ovechkin had a goal and an assist as Washington ended Ottawa's franchise-record eight-game win streak with a 4-1 road victory on Nov. 8.