When the Capitals and Penguins face off in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the spotlight will shine brightly on captains Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
Both are coming off dominant first-round series, but in their own unique ways.
Crosby led the Penguins with eight points (3 goals, 5 assists), with five of them coming on the power play, where the Pens converted on 8 of 21 opportunities in their five-game dismantling of the New York Rangers.
Ovechkin managed three goals and two assists in the Caps’ six-game series victory over the Flyers, with three of those five points coming on the power play, where the Caps converted on 8 of 27 opportunities.
But Ovechkin was dominant in other ways, leading the Capitals in hits (28) and shots (29) while averaging 19:51 in ice time, most among caps forwards.
“I feel like he played a hell of a series,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Sunday afternoon following the Caps’ series-clinching 1-0 win in Philadelphia. “He was physical, two-way player. He affected every game, whether or not it was offensively.”
That, more than anything is the difference between Ovechkin and Crosby and the biggest reason the comparisons between the two players hold little weight.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he thought Ovechkin played his best game against the Flyers in Game 5, a 2-0 loss.
“There was a lot of debris in that game,” Trotz said, recognizing the much of it came from Ovechkin. “He’s a horse, he’s hard to handle. I know a few of their defensemen were exhausted from trying to handle him, and when he steps up, there’s very few guys you can think of in the league that have the amount of ability.
“You think of Alex Ovechkin as a sniper, one of the best snipers maybe of this decade. But adding the physicality and the size can wear teams down, especially in a seven-game series.
“I don’t think there was a better player on the ice. He was an absolute beast. It was sort of funny: People were bouncing off of him, he was throwing them away, and I was really surprised he didn’t score (in Game 5). And when he raises that level, it’s a challenge for anybody in the National Hockey League. We’re very fortunate to have him, that’s for sure.”
The Penguins won three of the five regular season matchups against the Capitals, with Crosby recording a goal and three assists and Ovechkin failing to record a point.
The two stars have not met in the playoffs since 2009 when Ovechkin recorded 8 goals and 6 assists for 14 points and Crosby finished with 8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points. The Caps won the first two games of that series, only to see the Penguins storm back to win in seven games, three of which required overtime.
Don’t be surprised to see Ovechkin and Crosby going head-to-head in this series. Trotz did not try to get away from matching Ovechkin’s line against Claude Giroux (held to one point) in Round 1 and there’s a good chance you’ll see Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie out against Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan could tweak his lines between now and the series opener against the Capitals, but for the Pens’ series-clinching win on Saturday, the Pens’ lineup looked like this:
Conor Sheary – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz – Evgeny Malkin – Eric Fehr
Carl Hagelin – Nick Bonino – Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl – Matt Cullen – Bryan Rust
Olli Maatta – Kris Letang
Trevor Daly – Brian Dumoulin
Ian Cole – Ben Lovejoy
Matt Murray – Jeff Zatkoff
Injured: Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion)