RED-HOT ROOKIES: CROSBY AND OVECHKIN TO MEET ON TUESDAY
Thanksgiving may be Thursday, but the hockey feast begins Tuesday for fans at Mellon Arena.
And, this smorgasbord features the first of what could be the NHL’s best rivalry for a decade or so.
Move over Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, it’s time for Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Tuesday’s contest between Crosby’s Penguins and Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals marks the first time the two super rookies meet on NHL ice. FSN Pittsburgh will televise the contest at 7:30 p.m., while 3WS (94.5 FM) will start its radio broadcast with a pregame show at 7 p.m. The broadcast may be found live through streaming audio on pittsburghpenguins.com as well.
The two skated against each other once before in a memorable clash. Crosby and Team Canada steamed past Ovechkin’s Russia squad on Jan. 4 to claim this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship in Grand Forks, N.D.
Crosby had an assist in that game, while Ovechkin was shut out. Nevertheless, Ovechkin finished the tournament with 11 points (7+4) to Crosby’s nine (5+4).
That was merely a prequel to what could be one of the NHL’s most-exciting matchups for years. Washington’s 20-year-old Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in 2004, and Pittsburgh’s 18-year-old Crosby, the No. 1 pick in 2005, are two of the NHL’s brightest young stars.
“I don’t think it’s something I am worried about. Everyone is comparing us a lot, but I am not really worried about it. I have to worry about playing my game,” Crosby said. “Yeah, there’s going to be healthy competition there and that’s to be expected with us both being No. 1 picks. It’s going to be cool to have us both out there. It’s not something I am going to turn into me against him, though.”
Certainly, many others will focus on that individual battle.
“You’re talking about the two premiere rookies in the league,” Penguins radio play-by-play announcer Paul Steigerwald said. “Those are two guys who will definitely be finalists for the Calder Trophy.”
It should be one of the hottest tickets for many years.
“That’s the game. If I was picking one game to go and really see something special, I would definitely have the crayon circle that game,” Penguins radio color analyst Phil Bourque said. “It’s not often you get to see two players playing as good as they are playing. To be that young and talented – these two are just head and shoulders above everybody.”
Crosby and Ovechkin have been 1-2 in the rookie scoring race all season. Crosby leads the way with 24 points (9+15) in 20 games, while Ovechkin is second with 19 points (14+5) in 18 games.
“Ovechkin is a real dominant player. He is a guy that plays a physical game. He can score; he can create,” Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. “[Washington coach] Glen Hanlon has played him in a lot of different situations. It should be a lot of excitement, but it’s another game and another tough team to play against. It will be a great challenge for us.”
Crosby, a 5-foor-11, 193-pound center, and Ovechkin, a 6-foot-2, 216-pound left wing, possess different styles.
“Ovechkin is more of a dynamic 1-on-1 one player. He seems to enjoy beating guys in 1-on-1 situations,” Steigerwald said. “He’s maybe a little bit more of a sniper and pure goal-scorer, whereas Sid seems to be a guy who has a whole lot of different facets to his game that make him unique.
“Ovechkin is a little more of a classic Russian player who can fly and shoot the puck. He’s a dynamic, explosive player sort of like [Atlanta’s] Ilya Kovalchuk. He just seems to really enjoy that opportunity to blow by a guy, beat a defenseman and create a great scoring chance,” he continued. “He’s not the same kind of player Sid is in the corners and not as much of a puck distributor. He hangs onto it more. Sid seems to be a guy who likes to dish it and be more of a playmaker.
“Sid has a unique set of tools. He has that X-ray vision and can make plays out of the corners and along the boards. He can really protect the puck. Like a [Peter] Forsberg or a [Jaromir] Jagr, Sid enjoys having guys on him because he can spin off them and use that to his advantage.
“Sid will drive wide – he has that great acceleration – duck underneath a defender and slash to the net. He will use pure acceleration and lateral movement to get by a guy. He’s really able to move laterally – almost like a running back making cuts.”
While Crosby and Ovechkin may differ, there is one strong tie that binds them – their excitement factor.
Both outdid each other on consecutive nights in front of national television audiences. On Tuesday, Ovechkin scored Washington’s game-tying goal with 1:15 to play in regulation against the Lightning. In the shootout that followed, it was his goal that gave the Capitals the victory.
One night later, Crosby scored twice and factored into all three Penguins goals in a 3-2 overtime win at Philadelphia. Crosby scored the team’s second goal and added the game-winner with 46.7 seconds remaining in overtime as he scored on a breakaway. He gave the Penguins just their third win in Philadelphia since the end of the 1993-94 season.
“Sid is a productive player. He will take advantage of the players around him and make the players around him better,” Steigerwald said. “Ovechkin is probably the same way. They are two tremendous competitors with an unbelievable amount of skill.
“Alexander takes it upon himself to be the guy for that team. He wants to have the puck and wants to be in situations to win the game. Sid is that way, too. They enjoy responsibility. They relish it. They want the spotlight. They want the opportunity to make a difference.
“In the end, I see Sid having more assists and Ovechkin probably having more goals. Sid seems to be a guy who will get his goals as he gets more comfortable.”
All that doesn’t matter to Crosby. He’s focused on the present, not the future.
“Ovechkin is a great player. He’s fast and strong. He scores goals. He’s definitely a dangerous player out there,” Crosby said. “He definitely deserves to be a No. 1 pick and he is having a great start so far.
“But, you don’t worry about who you’re playing against too much like that. You have to worry about playing your own game. You play against a lot of great players throughout the season so you can’t think about a guy who is dangerous offensively. You have to worry about playing your own game. It’s something where it comes down to a win – you want to win a hockey game.”
Ovechkin, meanwhile, is quick to deflect any comparison.
"I can’t compare me and Sidney because I think we are different players. He is a great passer and he sees the ice very well," he said. "[Tuesday] will be a great game. I feel no pressure. It’s just a game against Pittsburgh. Everybody is speaking about me and Sidney and compare us. We just must play hard as a team against Pittsburgh."