Another outstanding season from Alex Ovechkin has put the Washington Capitals in contention for a top playoff seed. They've been especially good against teams from the New York metropolitan area.
Led by the league's leader in goals, the Capitals look to hold on to second place in the Eastern Conference and sweep their season series with the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.
With six games remaining, Washington is a longshot to catch Boston for first place in the East. The Capitals (46-23-7), though, have a one-point lead over third-place New Jersey, which is among the New York-area teams they've dominated.
Washington is 8-0-3 against those clubs, with Ovechkin posting 11 goals and nine assists. The star winger, who tops the NHL with 53 goals, has found the back of the net five times while adding two assists to lead the Capitals to a 3-0-0 record versus the league-worst Islanders (25-41-9).
A win Wednesday would give Washington a sweep in the season series for the first time since winning all four meetings in 2002-03.
Ovechkin enters this contest following a big game, scoring two goals and adding two assists in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay on Friday night, giving him 100 points on the season.
Ovechkin more than made up for the absence of winger Alexander Semin (flu), expected to return after a one-game absence, but Brian Pothier stole the spotlight.
The 31-year-old defenseman scored for the first time since a long recovery from a concussion that nearly cost him his career, breaking a 3-3 tie with 15:30 remaining in his fourth game back. He experienced headaches and dizziness for nearly a year after being checked into the boards against Boston on Jan. 3, 2008.
"It's been a while and really feels good," Pothier said. "I had to hold back the emotion a little bit, but I feel like I'm contributing. To put one in and an important goal was pretty special."
Pothier's return has helped ease Washington's concerns about blue-line depth. Any scoring from the veteran is purely a bonus for the high-scoring Capitals.
New York would likely be even worse off without points from defenseman Mark Streit, who has 16 goals and 39 assists. The only other defenseman that leads their team in scoring is Montreal's Andrei Markov, who played alongside Streit for three seasons with the Canadiens.
Streit, however, did not make the trip to Washington due to a sore groin.
No other Islander has more than 36 points, while Washington has six players with at least that many.
New York ranks near the bottom of the league in goals per game, averaging 2.48, but played Philadelphia tough in a 4-3 overtime loss Saturday night. Streit, Radek Martinek and Jeff Tambellini scored for the Islanders, who beat Detroit 2-0 the previous evening.
Though it's been a rough season, New York has been able to give younger players some experience and is confident it's headed in the right direction.
Kyle Okposo, a 20-year-old winger, has been particularly impressive, posting five goals and eight assists in the last 11 games.
"We've been playing a lot better," said Okposo, selected seventh overall in the 2006 draft. "We know we can win with the guys in this locker room."