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Rivalry Night Faceoff: Crosby vs. Ovechkin

Wednesday, 11.20.2013 / 3:00 AM / NHL Insider

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

To help celebrate NBC Rivalry Night, NHL.com will look at a rivalry within the rivalry of the featured game on Wednesday nights. For this week, we take a look at which superstar is off to the better start in 2013-14, 2013 Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin or 2013 Ted Lindsay Award winner Sidney Crosby.

There aren't many professional athletes that can say their time in a league defined an era. When Alex Ovechkin joined the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby debuted for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005-06, they were two of the most anticipated rookies in the history of the sport.

There wasn't much of a rivalry between the players at first, but they quickly became two of the premier talents in the League and helped their teams become Stanley Cup contenders. The rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin, and between their teams, intensified and at one point was considered by many in the hockey world to be the best in the NHL.

They collided in one of the best playoff series in League history in 2009, an epic seven-game showdown where both players racked up goals and points as the two teams went back-and-forth before the Penguins prevailed in a surprising Game 7 rout at Verizon Center.

The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup a few weeks later while the Capitals have yet to advance past the second round in the Crosby-Ovechkin era. Both players have won individual honors, with Ovechkin claiming the League MVP award while Crosby won the award given to the best player as voted by the players.

As Crosby and Ovechkin meet for the first time as division rivals Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) in Washington, which superstar is off to a better start to the 2013-14 season?

PIT

Sidney Crosby
2013-14 stats
G-A-P: 10-16-26
PIM: 14
+/-: 3

Alex Ovechkin 
2013-14 stats
G-A-P: 17-7-24
PIM: 14
+/-: -7

WSH

Crosby likely was en route to a second Hart Trophy in 2012-13 as he dominated the NHL for three-fourths of the season. He missed the final 12 games -- one quarter of the season -- because of a broken jaw and still nearly won the Art Ross Trophy.

It was the second time in his career he was the MVP frontrunner when an injury felled him. Crosby had 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games in 2010-11, but a collision with Washington's David Steckel during the 2011 Winter Classic and a hit from Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman four days later knocked him out for the remainder of that season and much of the next one with concussion/neck issues.

Crosby quickly moved to the top of the NHL points leaderboard this season, collecting 12 points in a four-game span at one point and totaling 17 in his first eight games. The Penguins also were 7-1-0 at that point, but Crosby and the team have not been the same since the "Cole Harbour Bowl" against the Colorado Avalanche.

While thoroughly outplaying Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche, Crosby and the Penguins lost 1-0 and have struggled to score, and win, since. Crosby has three goals and nine points in the past 13 games while the Penguins lost seven of 12 games before winning Monday against the Anaheim Ducks.

Pittsburgh has others struggling to score as well, particularly Evgeni Malkin, and the Penguins have 28 goals in their past 13 games. The Penguins had been in first or tied for first for every day of the Metropolitan Division's brief existence before the Capitals moved past them for a day with a win Sunday. Pittsburgh went back in front by a point the following night.

Crosby scored the final goal against Anaheim, bringing him even with the St. Louis Blues' Alex Steen for the League lead with 26 points.

While Crosby was away from the game because of injury, Ovechkin's production tumbled. The Capitals adopted a more passive philosophy near the end of the Bruce Boudreau era and then doubled-down when Dale Hunter replaced him as coach.

Ovechkin had 82-game career-lows in goals (32) in 2010-11 and points (65) in 2011-12. He had a third coach in little more than a year to start the 2012-13 season and a new position after Adam Oates moved him from left wing to the opposite side of the ice.

After a slow start and a brief return to his old position (but with inferior linemates), Ovechkin embraced right wing as his new home. Eventually he and longtime center Nicklas Backstrom were reunited and he began to resemble the old Ovechkin.

He scored 23 times in the final 23 games of the regular season, securing his third Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy and third Hart Trophy while helping the Capitals to a fifth division title in six years.

Despite a power outage during the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ovechkin is back pouring in goals again this season. After scoring twice Sunday against the Blues, his 17 goals are tied with Steen for the League lead.

The Capitals have had some issues at even strength, but the Ovechkin-led power play is second in the NHL and he's tops with seven extra-man goals.

Verdict: Now that the teams are in the same division, the number of opportunities to see these two superstars square off will increase. Crosby looked like a runaway leader for League MVP honors until the past week or so.

Washington's slow start to the season obscured Ovechkin's prowess, but he's been instrumental in helping the Capitals toward the top of the division. He's scoring more goals at even strength as well, a serious problem area for Washington in the early going.

Both players likely would show up on most MVP ballots at this point in the season, but it is hard to argue against all of the goals from Ovechkin.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the OT winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round