The difference between Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, two of the game’s most dynamic young talents, is razor-thin according to Terry Murray, a coach familiar with the talents each superstar brings to the rink on any given night.
Murray, in his fourth season as an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers, has served as head coach for the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals, totaling 11 seasons of head-coaching experience at the NHL level. The Flyers see Crosby’s Penguins eight times a year and play Ovechkin’s Capitals four times a campaign.
“Both are great players at a very young age,” Murray says “There’s a tremendous will both players have that surfaces right away. They assume ownership of their hockey club. It looks like both are willing and want to do that.”
With Crosby, Murray says it’s just pure, unfiltered greatness.
“Crosby, to me, I saw Mario Lemieux throughout his whole career, from the time he came into the League, coached against him a lot, and you see the same characteristics and same talents (with Crosby),” he said. “It’s just greatness.”
As far as one singular trait he could point to, Murray said Crosby’s vision makes him stand out.
“Crosby is a very good one-on-one player, but he’s got tremendous vision,” Murray said. “Great playmaker, great passer, can really incorporate all the other talents that are around him.”
Murray compared Crosby’s vision to a great passer from another sport.
“He’s a Larry Bird-kind of player,” says Murray. “The vision, the puckhandling skills, the awareness that everyone else on the team has to have because you never know when the puck is going to end up on your stick; that shows tremendous leadership on his part. That brings out the total ability of the players around him.”
With Ovechkin, Murray said it’s his game-breaking ability that makes him so special.
“Ovechkin is a very dynamic player,” he said. “He comes down the ice with great speed and can make plays at full speed. He shoots the puck off the rush, off-stride, between defensemen’s skates a lot. Ovechkin can beat you one-on-one, can drive to the net, can overpower people if you don’t have positioning.”
His mere presence on the ice also elevates his teammates, according to the coach.
“He’s a shooter,” says Murray. “He’ll probably lead the League in shots on goal year after year because he loves to shoot the puck, loves to take the puck to the net, and because of that there’s always going to be stuff lying around. There’s always going to be garbage goals lying around.”
While each player has a multitude of things they do so much better than 99 percent of the League, they must have some weakness that opposing teams can exploit.
Of Crosby, says Murray, “I don’t know if he has a weakness right now. Usually with a young player there’s plenty that shows up right away. But now he’s getting experienced and he’s growing physically, he’s more mature, stronger. He’s just a threat every time he’s on the ice.”
Murray’s sentiments are almost the same for Ovechkin. “He’s bigger, he’s stronger; he looks so in control all the time. There really isn’t a weakness that jumps out on the ice.”
All of which makes scheming against them nearly impossible. Thanks to a schedule heavily favoring divisional games, Murray’s Flyers have faced Crosby’s Penguins eight times each of the sensation’s first two years.
“I’d gladly donate one or two of our games (against Pittsburgh) to Edmonton or Vancouver right now,” Murray said.
“He’s their best player, so you have to limit the number of opportunities that he’s going to generate,” Murray says of Crosby. “He’s constantly a threat. You have to have awareness of the players around him.”
Murray believes the best plan for success is to make someone other than Crosby run the offense.
If you can force him to the outside and make his wings carry the puck, it’s a better thing for you as an opponent,” he said.
The key to stopping Ovechkin, says Murray, is to use his on-ice position to your advantage -- when possible..
“You’re trying to get body positioning, pushing them outside, making him have to make things happen from the dots to the boards,” Murray explains. “If you can limit those opportunities that he gets through driving to the net, then you’ll have an opportunity to win the game.”