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Each time Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby met last season, it was touted as a matchup of the top picks in the last two drafts. Now, it's the 2005-06 rookie of the year against the runner-up.
Looking for their sixth win in seven games and led by Calder Trophy winner Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals (13-10-6) meet Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins (12-11-5) at the Verizon Center on Monday night.
Ovechkin was the top overall pick by Washington in 2004, but had his rookie season delayed by the NHL lockout. In 2005, Pittsburgh won the lottery and the right to select Crosby, who totaled more than 300 points over two seasons in juniors and was one of the most highly touted players to come out of Canada since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux more than two decades earlier.
Neither Ovechkin nor Crosby has disappointed.
Ovechkin finished with 52 goals and 106 points last season to join Teemu Selanne in 1992-93 as the only rookies in NHL history to reach 50 goals and 100 points. Crosby recorded 22 points in his final 10 games and finished sixth in scoring with 39 goals and 102 points. At 18, he became the youngest player with 100 points in his first season, surpassing Dale Hawerchuk.
When facing off against each other, Crosby was the better player than Ovechkin, finishing with three goals and six assists in leading the Penguins to a 3-1-0 record against the Caps. Ovechkin had three goals and three assists in those games, but he beat out Crosby to become the first player in Capitals history to win the Calder Trophy.
Both teams failed to make the playoffs with their rookie stars, but that may change in their second seasons. Crosby is tied for fourth in scoring with 39 points, while Ovechkin has 18 goals and 17 assists.
This season, Ovechkin and Crosby haven't been the only reliable scorers on their teams.
Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin became the first rookie in 89 years to start his career with goals in six straight games. Selected second overall by the Penguins in 2004 behind Ovechkin, Malkin leads NHL rookies with 14 goals and 28 points.
Ovechkin has been getting help from Alexander Semin and Dainius Zubrus, who each have 12 goals, and Chris Clark and Matt Pettinger, who have 10 goals apiece.
"I have great team, and we play well," Ovechkin said. "Right now, we play well. Enjoy it."
The Caps got a goal and two assists from Ovechkin, but it was Bryan Muir's go-ahead goal 7:40 into the third period that lifted them to a 5-3 win over Philadelphia on Saturday.
Washington is averaging 5.4 goals in its last five wins and is nine points behind Southeast Division leader Atlanta.
The Penguins snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 overtime win over the Thrashers on Saturday. Malkin, who finished with a goal and two assists, fed Colby Armstrong for a goal 3:51 into the extra period.
"We're all learning together and experiencing a lot of things together for the first time," said Crosby, who had a goal and assist. "Hopefully we can build and grow and improve together and hopefully get some wins."
The Capitals and Penguins will meet three more times this season, but not again until Feb. 3 in Pittsburgh.