Alex Ovechkin finally appears to be breaking out of a deep scoring slump.
That's fantastic news for the Washington Capitals. Not so for the rest of the NHL.
Looking to extend his turnaround, Ovechkin leads the Capitals into Nationwide Arena on Saturday night to meet the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets.
The two-time MVP has also picked up the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal-scorer with 65 in 2007-08 and 56 the following season. After scoring 50 in 2009-10, Ovechkin slumped to 32 last season.
The downturn continued well into 2011-12 as Ovechkin had just nine goals in 29 games through Dec. 15.
However, he's found the back of the net five times over the last seven games, lifting the Capitals to a 4-2-1 record. Ovechkin posted his first multi-goal game since Oct. 29 after scoring twice in Friday's 3-1 win over Buffalo.
"He's a goal-scorer and he should be up there," said linemate Nicklas Backstrom, who recorded his 100th NHL goal.
But Ovechkin has struggled to get on the scoresheet throughout his career against the Blue Jackets. After notching four goals in his first two games, he'd gone scoreless in four meetings before getting an assist in the Caps' 4-3 overtime win on March 31.
The Capitals need Ovechkin to return to his superstar form. Washington (19-15-2), currently 10th in the Eastern Conference, is one point behind Winnipeg and five in back of Florida - the surprising top two teams in the Southeast Division.
Washington, which has won the Southeast each of the last four seasons, has dropped three straight on the road to fall to 6-10-1 away from home.
"They're going to be tough and we have to play better on the road definitely," coach Dale Hunter said of facing the Blue Jackets. "I worry about Columbus. Everyone has to be firing."
A long season for Columbus (10-22-5) now appears to be even more difficult as the club will have to get by again without one of its top defensemen.
Despite snapping a six-game losing streak with Thursday's 4-1 win over Dallas, the Blue Jackets lost James Wisniewski to a broken ankle suffered while blocking a shot in the second period, and is expected to miss about six weeks.
"It's always tough losing a guy, especially a guy that eats up big minutes like Wiz does," goaltender Steve Mason told the Blue Jackets' official website.
It's already been a long first season with Columbus for Wisniewski, who served an eight-game suspension at the start of the season for intentionally elbowing Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck in the face during the preseason.
Though he's appeared in just 29 games, Wisniewski was second among Blue Jackets defensemen with 17 points, one behind Fedor Tyutin.
Columbus could be hard-pressed to win back-to-back games for just the second time this season. The Blue Jackets have dropped two in a row to the Capitals, including a 4-3 setback in overtime on March 31 in Washington.
To end that brief slide, the Blue Jackets will need another solid outing from Mason and Rick Nash.
Mason is 3-1-1 with a 1.86 goals-against average and two shutouts all-time against Washington. The 2009 Calder Trophy is 5-15-2 with a 3.29 GAA this season, but has stopped 61 of 63 shots while splitting his last two starts.
Nash, who scored twice against the Stars to end a four-game goalless drought, will be looking for his fifth straight multi-point game versus the Capitals. Columbus' captain has recorded five goals and four assists during his streak.
Vinny Prospal, the Jackets' top scorer with 27 points, has three goals and three assists in his last three games against Washington.