Mike Milbury says he's not in the business of trying to sell personalities in this game.
Maybe "says" is too strong of a word.
Working its way out of Milbury's hard exterior, which was built from his days as a take-no-prisoners player and molded now in his role as a straight-shooting analyst, were several words of effusive praise for Sidney Crosby and a hard look inside what he must perceive to be the soul of Alex Ovechkin on Tuesday during a media brunch inside the NHL's New York offices to promote the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
Milbury called Crosby "the poster boy," and said Ovechkin "has a little of that dark side in him."
It was a stern look at the most polarizing superstar rivalry in the hockey today from one of the most brutally honest analysts in the game.
"I think it's fascinating. I want to see how this evolves," Milbury said of the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry. "Like the Capitals in general, I think Ovechkin has things he needs to learn in order to get to a level of greatness to compete for a championship, to compete against Crosby at that conference championship level every year. It'll be interesting to see how that evolves, but there is no doubt about the skill level of each player."
Milbury put the onus on Ovechkin to catch Crosby, who he believes is starting to pull away from the field.
"Crosby fascinates. Even the guys that have been around hockey forever are amazed that this guy sets his mind to improving a facet of his game and is able to do it," Milbury said. "I don't score enough goals, so I'm going to go home and shoot pucks into a washing machine and come back and score 50 the next year. Who does that? Or faceoffs aren't good enough, and now he's close to 60 percent. It's remarkable. And the other guy, meanwhile, can't have enough fun.
"It'll be interesting to see how it goes in the long run. I think it's a great rivalry, but the burden mostly lies with Ovechkin to ratchet it up a notch."
Milbury didn't stop with the personal rivalry. He said the recent trends of Crosby (21-game point streak) and Ovechkin (2 goals in 17 games) as well as the Penguins (13-2 over last 15 games) and Capitals (1-6-2 in last nine) are perfectly timed to help hype the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
"It's a chance for the Capitals and Ovechkin to get back on track and to do it against what is arguably the best team in the sport right now," he said. "Despite a couple of little bumps lately (the Penguins) have been wonderful to watch. They play with such speed on the forecheck, and it's not just random speed. It's a concerted effort by not just one line, but line after line. And you see the struggles of the Capitals trying to get their mojo back and all of a sudden the well seems to have gone dry. They're fighting their way through it, but this would be a great chance for them to get more than just a moral victory, but a victory for themselves, to feel good about themselves. It's an opportunity particularly for them.
"This is a chance for them to show people how serious they are."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl