Is there a personal rivalry between new Washington Capitals
captain Alex Ovechkin
and his counterpart with the Pittsburgh Penguins
, Sidney Crosby
? Their respective general managers both seem to believe that is the case.
Appearing on Thursday's NHL Hour With Gary Bettman, three days before Ovechkin, Crosby and their respective teams will go head to head in the NBC Game of the Week, Capitals GM George McPhee
was asked by the commissioner to address the question.
"There clearly is a rivalry there. And it seemed to start from day one when they both came into the League (at the start of the 2005-06 season). There were all kinds of comparisons and there will continue to be for as long as they're going head to head," McPhee said.
"And someone said a long time ago, it's not unlike Magic (Johnson) and (Larry) Bird. I had my doubts back then but I don't now."
Penguins GM Ray Shero
had a similar take on the situation.
"I'm not sure if they see it -- you'd probably have to ask them -- but I see it just because they're such great players. They're great competitors, and you can see it in the game and feel it in the game," Shero said."
Of course, the Ovechkin-Crosby rivalry reached a fever pitch last season when the Penguins and Capitals met in the second round of the playoffs, a series Pittsburgh came back to take in seven games en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals carried an 11-game winning streak into Thursday's game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Even McPhee admitted he is just a little surprised by such a long run of success.
"It's really hard to explain because this is the first time I've experienced anything like this and I'm sure a lot of our players haven't gone through this either. Eleven wins is a lot, and certainly in this League it's remarkable because it's such a good League," he said.
"It almost feels like you're getting ready for a playoff game, I guess is the best way to describe it. The other teams are playing us really hard right now. I don't think we've played well the last three games, but that may simply be a result of the other teams coming out and playing us so hard, but that's to be expected.
"I think our players like the challenge and I think they understand that I guess the psyche of the team is, if we can meet these pushes, if we can meet these challenges, and play at an elevated level, we're going to be better players and a better team as a result from being pushed so hard."
The Penguins, meanwhile, have closed to within a point of the Devils for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby is on pace to shatter his previous high for goals in a season and the team will be looking to close out Mellon Arena in style when the playoffs roll around this spring.
"I think we've played well of late," Shero said. "Sidney Crosby
is playing really well for us, Evgeni Malkin
has stepped up. We've gotten some good goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury
, who's back from a broken finger. (Backup goalie) Brent Johnson
has been good for us.
"I think our focus has been, (coach) Dan Bylsma
has broken it down the last 10 games before the Olympic break -- right now I think we're 5-2 in the last seven -- but we kind of gave the players a mandate that we have to get a little more focused, and I think our team has done that."
During his show, Bettman also applauded the accomplishment of Chicago hockey fan Bob Gertenrich, who attended his 2,000thh consecutive Blackhawks game Wednesday against St. Louis. Gertenrich was honored prior to the game, receiving a jersey with the nameplate "2,000" on it signed by the team.
Bettman also added that January was the highest-tracked month for page hits in the history of NHL.com.