After 2005-06 when Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin finished their rookie seasons, you might recall a cute little ad campaign the NHL had that included some of the best players in the league rollicking around a hotel. At one point, after realizing Ovechkin has sent a menu full of room service items to his room, Crosby feigns exasperation, balls up his fists and says, “Ovechkin!” through clenched teeth.
Since then, though, it’s a good bet the curses have been the other way around. Because while Ovechkin has had to give more speeches at the NHL Awards than Crosby, that’s pretty much the only edge he’s had against his archrival. Ovechkin has a Calder Trophy that Crosby will never win and has one more Hart Trophy and one more Rocket Richard.
But in virtually every other category, including head-to-head playoff series, Stanley Cups and Olympic gold medals, Crosby has bettered Ovechkin every time. And in the seminal first game since 2009-10 that both players are simultaneously healthy and at their height of their powers, it was more of the same.
In fact, it was almost no contest on every front. Crosby scored a goal and had an assist and was involved in a big way in the Penguins 4-0 victory over the Capitals, while Ovechkin spent much of the game playing on the periphery and ineffective. Including Wednesday night’s game Crosby and Ovechkin have met each other head-to-head 26 times in the regular season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Crosby has 15 goals and 45 points in those games, while Ovechkin’s numbers are a more modest 17-15-32. The Penguins have a commanding 17-7-2 record in those games, while the Capitals are just 9-13-4.
Perhaps legendary play-by-play man Mike (Doc) Emrick put it best when he summed up the showdown when he said in the dying minutes, “There are nights like that…the bug in the windshield. Tonight, the bug in the windshield was wearing white.”
The Penguins were having all kinds of trouble scoring goals, but did an outstanding job of shutting down the Capitals, who had just 18 shots on the evening and looked frustrated and impotent almost all night. Ovechkin seemed to be engaged in spurts, but there were too few times that he drove the net, instead choosing to shoot from areas where, even with his lethal shot, could not generate much offense. Crosby, on the other hand, had five shots on goal and was involved from start to finish.
The Capitals as a group barely showed up, which was strange considering they were riding a three-game winning streak and had an opportunity to overtake the Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division (a.k.a. the worst division in hockey). The Penguins, meanwhile, hadn’t won two straight games in almost three weeks and were having their issues scoring goals. But there was nothing wrong with their creativity on the Penguins third goal, a power play marker that featured puck movement involving Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Crosby, who finished the play with a perfect shot.
A subtext to the game was provided by the goaltenders. Braden Holtby was invited to last summer’s Canadian Olympic team’s orientation camp. Marc-Andre Fleury was not. Fleury stopped 18 shots and never looked one iota out of position. Holtby faced 40 shots, but was not very good on a couple of the Penguins goals. And as though the Penguins really needed to superior in another area, Fleury has far surpassed Holtby on Canada’s depth chart for Sochi and continues to make a legitimate bid to be one of the three goalies on the squad. Holtby, on the other hand, can safely book his trip to a sunny clime in mid-February without having to take out cancellation insurance.
The two teams don’t meet again until January, then have a home-and-home series on back-to-back nights in March. If the Capitals have any hopes of using those games to close the gap on the Penguins in their series, Ovechkin will almost certainly have to close the gap on Crosby.