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Ovechkin, Datsyuk are two one-of-a-kind players

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- It's like choosing between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini.
Almost everybody who follows the NHL seems to have an opinion about which Russian superstar they'd take if forced to pick between Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk.
Pav or Ovi? Ginger or Mary Ann? Is there even a correct answer here?
Probably depends on which uniform you wear, but one thing is certain -- whenever Datsyuk (22 G, 34 A) and Ovechkin (28 G, 46 A) play each other, it's "must-watch" television. That will be the case on Wednesday night, when "Ovi" and the Capitals invade Joe Louis Arena to face "Pav" and the Red Wings (7:30 p.m. Versus, RIS).
Oh, and by the way, they just happen to play for two of the League's best teams -- in case you're looking for a fun little side story to keep your attention.
"It's not so much about me and Datsyuk right now," Ovechkin said, while trying to downplay the friendly Russian rivalry. "It's two good teams playing against each other. We have good players and they have good players, so it's going to be a good match."

"It's not so much about me and Datsyuk right now. It's two good teams playing against each other. We have good players and they have good players, so it's going to be a good match." -- Caps' captain, Alex Ovechkin

Datsyuk didn't participate in Detroit's optional morning skate but spent a few minutes talking with Ovechkin outside the locker rooms, getting caught up with his countryman and former Dynamo teammate during the 2004-05 work stoppage.
Datsyuk didn't speak with the media, but he usually lets his incredible skill with the puck do the talking for him anyway, as Ovechkin aptly pointed out.
"Well, you can just go (online) and watch his goals and say, 'Wow,'" Ovechkin said. "He has tremendous skills and I think he's one of the best puck-controllers in the League. He's fun to watch."
The Red Wings agree. As expected, they'd pick "Pav" in the great Russian superstar debate, just as the Capitals said "Ovi" is their guy.
"I'd go with Pav," Detroit forward Johan Franzen said. "He's probably the best player to play with for a winger like me. He can find passes anywhere and his stick handling is just phenomenal in any situation. I'd probably pay to watch both of those guys play, though."
Instead, Franzen will get paid to watch them -- at least when he's not on the ice trying to get on the score sheet himself.
"We're allowed to watch, too," said Franzen, Detroit's leading goal scorer with 27. "When we're on the bench, we're allowed to watch. I catch myself doing that every once in awhile and I'm shaking my head a little bit at some of the things these guys can do."
He'll probably get the chance for a few double takes on Wednesday night.
Ovechkin has 12 points during the Capitals' nine-game winning streak, while Datsyuk has racked up 17 points in 17 games since returning from a broken bone in his hand.
"We usually just look at each other on the bench and shake our heads," Franzen said of Datsyuk's slick moves with the puck. "I'm getting kind of used to it, but there's always something he does that makes you do that. He's exciting."
He's also a threat at both ends of the ice, with a keen ability to backcheck and swipe pucks from behind. Ovechkin isn't known for that particular skill, but his incredible offensive ability is undeniable.
"He's just a dominant player," said Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who's slated to get the start against the Capitals. "He's exciting. He's fun to watch. He's dynamic. He likes to get in the soft areas and just rip the puck, so you've got to be aware of that and just expect the unexpected when his stick's on the puck. Any chance that he's got, he's going to fire it on net."
For the record, Howard also picked Datsyuk, but said it's like "splitting hairs."
Washington forward Brooks Laich agreed, though he's firmly entrenched in Ovechkin's corner.
"I'm very biased in that one," Laich said. "They're both tremendous players. Ovi's a little more offensive minded and Pav is more two-way minded, but both are tremendous players and bring a lot to the sport. It's going to be exciting to watch."
It should also live up to the hype. Laich has watched Ovechkin rise to the challenge of playing against Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby a number of times and thinks it will be similar against Datsyuk.
"That's the good thing about star players," Laich said. "They want to beat the other guy. Usually when one guy elevates his game, the other guy is able to do the same -- and now you're seeing the best of both. Sometimes you need one star player to bring out the other star player's best, so we'll see what happens tonight."
We just won't make a final decision about which is better.
Laich comfortable at center: Injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Arnott meant Laich centered the Caps' top line between Ovechkin and Alexander Semin in Tuesday's 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens.
He will probably do it against the Red Wings, too, but said it wasn't too big of a role shift considering he played center when he was younger.
"It's a bit of an adjustment, but I still consider myself a centerman," he said. "I played center until I was about 23, so it's probably easier for me to go back to that position than anybody else because of my history there. You change a little bit, but when you're playing with good players it makes the adjustment pretty easy."
Raffy returns: Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski will play after missing the previous eight games with back spasms. Defenseman Ruslan Salei will not play for the Red Wings, as he's with his pregnant wife. Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves will be Detroit's scratches, while either Jiri Hudler or Justin Abdelkader will join Kris Draper and Darren Helm on the Wings' fourth line. Meanwhile, veteran goalie Chris Osgood is officially back from groin surgery and will back up Howard against the Caps.
All the healing bodies come as great news for the Red Wings, who started Wednesday second in the Western Conference, just two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks.
"Fans get all excited that you're getting everyone back, but it also takes guys several days to get their timing and rhythm back out there," Howard said. "But it's starting to come around right now."
Just in the nick of time, it seems.
"We knew that teams were going to be coming up the standings behind us," Howard said. "It was important for us to get out of the gate early and bank a lot of those points, and they came in useful when we had all those injuries."
Caps keep on rolling: Last season Washington ripped off 14 straight wins and now the Caps are riding a nine-game streak while looking to push it to 10 against the Red Wings.
What's the secret to such prolonged runs?
"I don't know what the real key is," Laich said. "Momentum is a funny thing. When you get it on your side, it can just turn into a snowball that just keeps getting bigger and bigger and starts to roll. We've been able to do that. There's a lot of factors that go into it, but winning streaks start and end with teamwork and hard work -- and the last nine games it's been the best we've shown this year."
Goalie matchup: Howard (33-13-5) will get the start for Detroit, while Michal Neuvirth (22-10-4) is back in net for the Capitals.
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