Sid, it is.
Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 18-year-old phenom got the better of his first NHL meeting with Alexander Ovechkin – Washington’s 20-year-old sensation. Crosby scored a goal and added an assist, while Ovechkin was limited to an assist in Pittsburgh’s 5-4 triumph Tuesday night at Mellon Arena.
It was the first showing of what could be one of the NHL’s most-exciting matchups for years between Crosby, who was drafted No. 1 in 2005, and Ovechkin, the first-overall pick in 2004.
“I don’t fear for the future of the NHL with those two guys out there,” Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said.
However, Crosby is happier with the victory than his two points, which increased his rookie-scoring lead to five points, 27-22, over Ovechkin.
“I can’t change anything. You play against great players every game you play in this league,” he said. “You have to prepare yourself. That’s my main focus – playing for this team. I am responsible for carrying out my role and that’s what I was worried about.”
Still, Crosby thrives under the spotlight. So, he enjoyed playing in front of a standing-room only crowd of 16,978 that was there to witness the first entertaining matchup between two of the NHL’s premiere rookie talents. They met once before at the World Junior Championships in January and Crosby’s Canada team won that affair, 6-1.
“I don’t want to think too far ahead, but it was fun tonight. This is another first. It was nice to come out with the win. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking anything outside of that,” Crosby said. “I am just going to take it one at a time. I am not looking too far ahead. There’s some healthy competition there.”
Crosby scored a highlight-reel goal 11:53 into the first period. He took a long pass and split a pair of Capitals defenders. Once in the slot, he deked to his left, brought puck back to his forehand and flipped it past a flailing Olaf Kolzig.
The capacity crowd went nuts.
The Penguins rookie brought the Mellon Arena crowd to its feet once again in the second period. This time, it was his no-look, cross-ice backhanded pass that set up Ziggy Palffy for Pittsburgh’s fifth goal with 6:30 on the clock.
“I was just trying to put it at the net,” Crosby said. “Before I stopped, I saw Ziggy driving to the net. I just tried to throw it over there.”
Near the bottom of the left face-off circle, Crosby shrugged off a Capitals defender, stopped and, without looking, zinged a backhanded pass to Palffy, who buried it from the far post.
“It was unbelievable,” Palffy said. “I was just driving to the net. I saw it was going to happen. I saw he was going to put the puck on the net or put it behind him.”
Overall, the Penguins’ defense was able to limit Ovechkin’s explosiveness.
“For the most part, I thought we did a pretty good job. We held the line. Once we started getting on our heels a bit, he started penetrating and he finds a way to make plays,” Olczyk said. “He is a very dangerous player and he made some great moves in the second period.”
Indeed. In the second period, Ovechkin had a nice scoring chance as he curled around the Pittsburgh defense on the far side, cut in front of the net and flipped a quick shot at the net. Sebastien Caron stopped it and covered the puck, even though Ovechkin thought it was in and raised his arms as he skated past the goal.
Ovechkin picked up his assist in the third period on a two-on-one following an expired Capitals penalty. With a Pittsburgh defenseman on him, Ovechkin fired the puck to Matt Pettinger, who one-timed it past Caron to slice Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-3 with 15:14 remaining.
“Overall, I thought our defense did a pretty good job,” Olczyk said. “He’s a world-class player and I was pretty happy with the way our guys handled him.”
Crosby was impressed with Ovechkin’s play.
“He’s a great player. He made some great plays out there – a few behind his back, a nice pass on one of the goals,” he said. “He showed he’s a great player, definitely.”
The Crosby vs. Ovechkin saga should only intensify the rivalry between the Penguins and Capitals.
“I’m a big fan of individuals; I like it. But, I’m still an [old-time] guy; I like the city of Washington playing the city of Pittsburgh,” Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. “If there are great individuals involved – all the better, but it’s that Penguins jersey and the Caps jersey that still motivates me. Those are what rivalries are about.”