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Numbers: Crosby, Ovechkin are reversing roles

by John Kreiser
Sid the Shooter? Ovi the Passer? Who'd have thought it?

As they prepare for their second meeting of the season on the NHL Game of the Week on NBC Sunday (12 p.m. ET), Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin have reversed roles (well, kind of). Crosby is on his way to a career-best in goals, while Ovechkin figures to set a career high in assists.

Crosby's hat trick against Buffalo Monday night was his third of the season -- more than he had in his first four NHL seasons combined. The three goals gave him 37; he's likely to surpass his career high of 39 before the Olympic break and is on pace for 54.

Tops in the goal-scoring race is a position usually held by Ovechkin, who has won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer in each of the last two seasons. It's not like he's not filling the net -- he's up to 38 goals in 49 games (he missed eight due to injuries and suspension), tying him with San Jose's Patrick Marleau for the League lead. But he also has 42 assists, putting him on a pace for a career-best 63.

Crosby has had at least 24 more assists than goals in each of his first four seasons. But he enters the weekend with "only" 34 assists. In contrast, Ovechkin had had more assists that goals only once -- in his rookie season of 2005-06, when he put up 54 to go along with his 52 goals.

Stepping up
-- One reason the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry is so great is that both players continually rise to the occasion.

Crosby enters Sunday's game with 9 goals (one this season) and 18 assists for 27 points in 15 regular-season games against Washington since he and Ovechkin entered the NHL in 2005. Ovechkin has more goals (12, including 2 this season) but fewer assists (12) and points (12) in 16 games against Pittsburgh (Crosby missed one game with an injury). Of course, that doesn't count their legendary seven-game playoff duel last spring, when both players had 8 goals and Ovechkin had 14 points to Crosby's 13 -- but Sid and the Penguins won the series.

A perfect 9 -- Beating the Capitals in Washington Sunday won't be easy for the Penguins.

The Verizon Center has been the toughest place in the NHL for visiting teams this season -- the Caps are a League-best 21-3-3 at home entering Friday night's game with Atlanta. It's their first home game in February -- after a record-setting month of January.

The Capitals went 9-0-0 at home last month, winning all nine games in regulation. They are the first team ever to play and win all nine games at home in one month.

But Crosby and the Penguins have had the better of Ovechkin and the Caps since the two entered the NHL in 2005 -- though the Capitals are making inroads. In their 16 regular-season meetings, Pittsburgh is 11-5-0, while the Caps are 4-8-3 (Washington won a 6-5 shootout in 2007-08 while Crosby was injured). But Washington is 4-0-1 since the start of last season -- including a 6-3 win at Pittsburgh on Jan. 21.

Iron man -- Martin Brodeur surpassed Terry Sawchuk's all-time record for shutouts in December. He matched another of Sawchuk's marks when he took the ice for last Sunday's game against Los Angeles.

It was Brodeur's 15th appearance in the month of January, the second month in a row he'd appeared in 15 games. Before Brodeur, Sawchuk had been the only other goaltender in NHL history to play 15 games in back-to-back months -- he did it in December 1954 and January 1955.

Sawchuk finished with a 17-7-6 mark in his two-month marathon, going 9-3-3 in December and 8-4-3 in January. Brodeur was 10-4-0 (with a no-decision) in December, but just 7-7-1 in January -- a month in which he had three games that he started but didn't finish.

Mr. Zero -- Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is the king of the 1-0 shootout victory.

Of the 17 games that have gone to a shootout after 65 scoreless minutes since the shootout was adopted in 2005, Bryzgalov is the only goaltender to win more than one. He now has three after Phoenix won 1-0 in a 10-round shootout at Nashville on Tuesday. He also won at San Jose earlier this season and beat Dallas at Arena on Jan. 10, 2009.

Phoenix is the only team with three 1-0 shootout wins. The New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues each have two. The Rangers have been involved in four such games, the most of any team -- New York, Boston, Nashville and Dallas are the only teams that have lost twice.

The Coyotes' win at Nashville was the fourth game to go to a shootout tied 0-0 -- and the visiting team has won all four. Before this season, home teams were 7-6.
Keep 'em coming -- Maybe the secret to beating Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak is to shoot less -- the more shots he sees, the better he plays.

Halak improved to 7-0-0 when facing 40 or more shots when he stopped 45 of 47 by Boston on Tuesday night in a 3-2 shootout victory. In those seven games, he's allowed just 11 goals (1.54 goals-against average) and stopped 315 of 326 shots (.966 save percentage). He's made 45 saves in back-to-back games this week, helping Montreal beat Vancouver and Boston -- both by 3-2 scores.

In his other 20 appearances, Halak has been nothing special -- he has a 9-8-2 record, a .909 save percentage and a 2.72 goals against average. Overall, he's 16-9-2 with a 2.40 GAA and a .930 save percentage.

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