Saturday is no different as Crosby and the Penguins welcome Ovechkin and the Capitals to Mellon Arena for the first time this season.
However, both players are quick to downplay the emphasis on individual play, although neither wants to end up on the losing end of the scoreboard.
“I think it’s always a little bit more motivating. From my side, I think that it’s built up so much that, in a way you want to respond and make sure you have a good game,” Crosby said. “But at the end of the night the win is most important. That’s the way I looked at it. But there’s no doubt there seems to be more emotion and intensity when we play each other.”
Ovechkin agrees: “I think Sidney is right. It’s important for us, for our team, to win the game. Of course, Sidney and me want to score goals and have some points, but it’s important for us to win the game.”
Ovechkin edged Crosby in the individual battle last year as he captured the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
However, Crosby has won the war, so far.
With No. 87 in the lineup, Pittsburgh has won four of the five games against the Capitals. Crosby has 11 points (4+7) in those five games, while Ovechkin has just eight (3+5) in his five games against the Penguins.
In the teams’ first meeting this season, Crosby had one goal and one assist while Ovechkin had two assists.
After taking the league by storm as rookies a year ago, Crosby, the 2005 first-overall pick, and Ovechkin, the 2004 top pick, have continued to excel. Only 19, Crosby leads the league in scoring with 82 points (25+57) in only 47 games. Ovechkin, who is 21, is next – 12 points behind – with 70 points (33+37) in 52 games.
“It’s not a whole lot different this season. I think there are more familiar faces, which is nice, and not as many new buildings. So I think that’s just the nice part about not being a rookie,” Crosby said. “You’re not surprised by as many things. Just a little bit more comfortable. “Other than that, I don’t think there’s been a lot that changes.”
Ovechkin, too, is enjoying his sophomore season.
“Yeah. I just feel comfortable right now. We know the league and we know the rules and we now to play against some teams,” he said. “Just I think right now we know the league better than first year. For me right now, I know the league and the team and I feel more comfortable.”
Both players have taken their games to a higher level this season, too.
“I think for me, experience is something that I can look back and say that I’m more experienced – a lot more knowledgeable about everything that has to do about playing the game,” Crosby said. “So, I think I have a lot of learning and a long ways to go, but I think I can definitely bring that from last year. I’m just more aware. I think I’ve tried to become a guy that’s going to shoot the puck more often when I get the chance just to keep guys honest. I’m always learning, always trying. Those are the a couple things I’ve tried to improve on this year.”
“For me, this year, I try to play more defensively,” Ovechkin said. “I talk with my coach a lot and he tells me, ‘I don’t care about how we play offensively. I care about how we play defensively.’ I know I play right now better defensively. I think all my teammates and all my coaches and fans see it and they know I try to play more defensively.”
Both players skated together at the NHL All-Star Game in Dallas as both were voted in to the Eastern Conference’s starting lineup.
“It was nice. There’s always so many comparisons. But for me, I think with my game I’m more of a playmaker and I think Alex is more of a shooter,” Crosby said. “It was great passing to someone like that. It would have been nice to set him up, but I couldn’t get him the puck too often. Hopefully we get another crack at it and see what happens.”
Said Ovechkin, “He’s a great player I watch lots of games he plays. He just gives the pass, and guys just love to shoot, you know. It was great getting the chance to play with him.”
The Penguins-Capitals battles have taken an interesting twist this season with Evgeni Malkin joining the Penguins roster. Picked second overall in 2004 behind countryman Ovechkin, Malkin, only 20, is enjoying a very successful rookie campaign and leads all rookies in scoring with 55 points (25+30) in 46 games.
“I’m really happy for him, because he is a great player and he’s a great guy,” Ovechkin said. “He’s a very good person and he’s an unbelievable player. His team is lucky team to have Sidney and Malkin. They were drafted and they are good players and probably will be the best team in the league. But we have couple guys, too.”
Crosby has enjoyed playing alongside No. 71.
“It’s been great to be able to play with someone that's that creative and has that much fun out there on the ice. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I think that I’m improving just from playing with him. He’s a fun guy to play with and even just to be on the ice practicing with every day. He’s still learning English so it’s hard to communicate, but we’re doing our best. And I think he’s coming along as the season goes on, which is good. It’s just been fine. I think that we’re lucky we have guys like [Jordan] Staal and [Marc-Andre] Fleury, too. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
FSN Pittsburgh will televise the contest at 1 p.m., while 105.9 The X will start its radio broadcast with a pregame show at 12:30 p.m. The broadcast may be found live through streaming audio on pittsburghpenguins.com as well. Tune in for Penguins Hotline following every game on 105.9 The X and the Penguins Radio Network. Join in the conversation with host Bob Grove by calling the Penn Telecom toll-free line at 1-866-922-2874.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe Bob Grove or Phil Bourque will answer your question during the second intermission of the game.