WASHINGTON – The last time Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin played against each other was one of the more ignominious events in the last hockey season. It was the outdoor game in Pittsburgh, on January 1, 2011, when Crosby suffered a concussion that kept him out of the game for nearly eleven months. In the meantime, Ovechkin’s performance declined steadily and consistently to the point that the game tonight was almost a critical point in his career – if he couldn’t get excited about facing his old nemesis, after all, what could get him going?
We still don’t know the answer. The Caps looked listless if not altogether disinterested, and although neither superstar was a factor, Crosby’s team came away with a 2-1 victory.
Once considered the two titans of the NHL, Crosby and Ovechkin continue to go in different directions. They may have been 1a and 1b for several seasons, but that seems no longer the case. While it’s clear Crosby is on his way back to becoming a dominant player again, Ovechkin has proved thoroughly unmotivated. In fact, his ennui likely cost coach Bruce Boudreau his job, but the incoming coach, Dale Hunter, has now lost his first two games behind the Caps bench and Ovi hasn’t scored in either game.
And if Ovechkin thought a coaching change would bring about more ice time—a factor many consider to be at least part of Boudreau’s firing—he was wrong. Tonight Ovi had just 19:22 of playing time while Crosby played a minute more (both played 21 shifts). Ovi had just one shot on goal while Crosby had three. But most important, Crosby’s team managed to win even when its star didn’t play his best. Not so Ovi’s Capitals.
More significant, Crosby was at least noticeable the game, creating several good scoring chances despite leaving Washington after a regular season game without a point for the first time in his career (18 points in 11 previous games). The visitors outshot the Caps by more than double (35-17) and played a smarter, more disciplined game.
Crosby made his mark immediately in this game, rifling a hard shot just past goalie Tomas Vokoun on his first shift and taking a sneaky backhand that almost fooled Vokoun on shift number two. He was relatively quiet the rest of the period, though, but so was Ovechkin. Number 8 made a nice move to create one scoring chance, but he didn’t get a shot on goal and played on the periphery most of the period. Craig Adams scored the only goal of the period for the Pens.
The Capitals tied the game early in the second thanks to Jason Chimera, and this goal proved to be the only one of the middle 20 minutes. Ovechkin set up linemate Nicklas Backström for a great scoring chance, but Backström fired the puck well over the goal of a sprawling Marc-André Fleury.
Ovechkin took a penalty in the period, but although Crosby moved the puck around well with the extra man, the Pens failed to score. Chris Kunitz scored the winner early in the third when his shot from the slot eluded Vokoun.
Crosby had a couple of good scoring chances in the third period, but it was the final minute where the subtle contributions of the two stars were a highlight during a rare shift when both players were on the ice. With Vokoun on the bench for an extra skater, Ovechkin lost the puck at the Pittsburgh blueline but kept skating lazily into the Penguins end rather than stop and try to retrieve the puck. Moments later, Crosby controlled the puck along the boards in the Washington end, killing precious seconds as the clock headed towards zero.
And so the first game of the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry in almost a year proved to be one of the most lacklustre, Washington’s number 8 showing none of the zip and hellbent skating which propelled him to a record 65 goals by a left winger just a few short seasons ago. For now, Crosby stands alone as the league’s marquee player. Let’s see if Ovi can fight back and give the Wizard of Croz a run for his money.