New York Islanders at Washington Capitals
By TAYLOR BECHTOLD
(AP) -- With Alex Ovechkin and Joel Ward leading a scoring surge, the Washington Capitals are sneaking their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
They'll try to continue that climb against the New York Islanders, who have scuffled at both ends during their losing streak.
The resurgent Capitals seek their fourth win in six games while dealing the Islanders a sixth straight defeat Tuesday night.
Since totaling eight goals over a season-worst seven-game skid, Washington (25-22-9) has found a rhythm offensively with 21 goals during this 3-1-1 stretch.
Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 39th goal on a power play 2:37 into overtime of a 6-5 victory over Detroit on Sunday. Ward added two goals and an assist as the Capitals snapped a three-game home slide in the opener of a four-game homestand.
Washington's improved play has moved it back into the thick of a tight, six-team pack between eighth and 13th place in the East.
"It'll go right down to the end," coach Adam Oates said. "That's why you've got to get as healthy as you can. Every point matters."
Ovechkin has scored in four of five at home and produced five goals in the team's last four victories. He added a total of three goals as Washington won a pair over New York by a combined 9-4 margin in November.
Ward has been one of the team's biggest surprises, scoring four times in the last three games to match his career high with 17 goals. The right wing, however, hasn't had a goal in his last eight games against the Islanders.
"I definitely know I've got a role on this team, and that's obviously to try to chip in as much as I can," Ward said. "But by no means I'm not trying to be no superhero or Batman."
The Capitals are going for their fourth straight win against the last-place Islanders (21-28-8), who rank near the bottom of the league with 3.28 goals allowed per game.
New York has given up at least four goals four times during its five-game slide. Evgeni Nabokov allowed three on 36 shots in a 4-1 road loss to the rival Rangers on Friday.
Nabokov is 0-2-0 despite a 2.32 goals-against average in three games since missing three weeks with a leg injury. He allowed a season-worst six goals in a 6-2 loss in Washington on Nov. 5, but is 12-2-3 with a 2.32 GAA all-time in the series.
"We've played a lot of hockey," captain John Tavares said. "We didn't seem to have that extra gear when we needed it."
Tavares is in the midst of his longest goal-scoring drought of the season at six games, but he's scored six times in his last six meetings with the Capitals.
Kyle Okposo, who has a team-high 24 goals to match his career high, has a goal in five of seven games after providing the lone tally in Friday's loss. He also has produced a goal in each of his last two trips to the nation's capital.
The Islanders may have to turn things around against Braden Holtby, who has allowed nine goals in his last two games. Holtby, however, is 4-1-0 with a 1.77 GAA in five career starts in this series.
Washington is hoping to get defenseman Mike Green back in this matchup. Green has been suffering concussion-like symptoms since getting hurt in last week's loss at Columbus.
The Capitals are 8-2-1 in the last 11 home meetings with the Islanders.
Updated February 3, 2014