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Why Ovechkin, Crosby 'couldn't be any more different'

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Why Ovechkin, Crosby 'couldn't be any more different'

As front row spectators, no one can better describe the Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby rivalry as well as former Penguins and current Capitals defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, who have gotten to know both superstars both on the ice and off.

“They couldn’t be any more different,” said Orpik, whose task will be to shut down Crosby tonight when the Penguins (4-4-0) visit the Capitals (6-1-0) at Verizon Center (8 p.m., NBCSN). “They are two of the bigger names in the game, but in terms of the way they carry themselves off the ice they couldn’t be more opposites.”

Orpik played nine seasons and won a Stanley Cup with Crosby before signing with the Capitals in 2014 with the hopes of getting Ovechkin his first.

“Sid definitely has sort of a more serious demeanor 90 percent of the time,” Orpik said. “When Ovi leaves the rink, I could be wrong here, but I don’t think he watches a lot of hockey. I know Sid is constantly thinking about hockey and how to improve himself and Ovi, I think, turns it on when he comes to the rink. At night he does other stuff (than watch hockey). It is pretty cool to see the different personalities.”

A little more than 10 years ago, on Oct. 5, 2005, Ovechkin and Crosby burst onto the NHL stage and they have been entertaining millions of NHL fans ever since.

In 766 career games, Ovechkin has 480 goals, 424 assists and 904 points, and has won the Calder Trophy, three Hart Trophies, five Rocket Richard Trophies and one Art Ross Trophy.

In 635 games career games, Crosby has 303 goals, 553 assists and 856 points, and has won two Hart Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, one Rocket Richard Trophy and one Stanley Cup.

“They set the standard for the next guys,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Those two guys will go down in history as not rivals, but faces of the game. And if they retire at the same time they’ll probably be standing at a podium in Toronto going into the Hall of Fame together because they were the faces that put the NHL back on the map and gave it a real boost when it needed it.”

So, who’s better? Ovechkin was asked that question on Wednesday morning.

“Are you kidding me right now?” Ovechkin replied with a laugh, turning his attention to the rivalry between the Caps and Pens.

“It’s been 10 years,” he said. “It’s still a game between two teams. They have great players. We have great players, so it’s a fun night. You want to win the game and do something special out there.”

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Crosby called Ovechkin, who has averaged 47.5 goals a season in his first 10 years, a “true goal scorer.”

“Regardless if scoring has gotten tougher or not, I think the consistency of putting in that amount of goals every year is pretty incredible,” Crosby said. “Alex is a true goal scorer. He’s proven that year after year. But he’s done it a lot of different ways. He’s got a great shot that’s dangerous, but he’s found a way to put the puck in the net.”

Niskanen, who played parts of four seasons with Crosby before signing with the Capitals in 20014, said it’s hard to say which player he’d rather have on his team.

“I’m usually partial to my current teammates, naturally,” he said. “When you play against guys, mentally you try to find a way to pick away at their game and find negatives in what they do. And when you’re teammates you see all the positives because you’re around them every day and you want them to do well. So right now, I’m all about Ovi.”

Over the past 10 seasons, Ovechkin has played 39 regular-season games against the Penguins and has racked up 27 goals and 46 points. Crosby has faced the Caps 33 times and has 18 goals and 51 points. The two have met just once in the playoffs, with the Pens eliminating the Caps in seven entertaining games in 2009.

That, Orpik said, has diminished the rivalry between the two teams.

“It was a rivalry,” Orpik said, “but Philly was always the big rival because we always seemed to play them in the playoffs.”

Since Crosby and Ovechkin entered the NHL following the 2004-05 lockout,  the Pengiuiins have won 22 of the 39 regular-season meetings between the two teams. This season, Ovechkin has led the Caps to a fast start with five goals and nine points in six games, while Crosby has managed just one goal and three points in eight games.

Through eight games, the Penguins have just 13 goals, far fewer than anyone anticipated with the addition of Phil Kessel, who leads the Pens with three goals. Caps coach Barry Trotz said he can appreciate what Penguins coach Mike Johnston is trying to accomplish in Pittsburgh with a tighter defensive philosophy.

“That’s what we did here,” said Trotz, whose team has outscored its first seven opponents by a 29-18 margin. “It’s not the easiest thing to do. You have to have a buy-in from your players and it looks like they have. They’re winning 2-1 games and that’s more of what you’ll see in the playoffs.”

Crosby was quick to defend himself and his teammates when asked about the Penguins being on board with Johnston’s game plan.

“I don’t think buy-in is an issue,” he said. “I don’t think buy-in is a question with us, it’s a matter of finding ways to finish. We’ve been pretty good defensively and that’s usually a pretty good indicator of how you’re playing defensively and how you are structurally that way. I think when you’re good defensively, you believe that pucks will find a way to go in offensively.”

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Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

The Caps looked like they were in good shape in the third period on Wednesday. With a 3-2 lead in the final frame against a New York Rangers team that had played the night before, Washington looked like they were starting to wear down the blue shirts and tilt the ice in their favor.

But everything changed just before the midway point of the period.

Nathan Walker, in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 4, chased down Neal Pionk behind the Rangers net as Pionk went to collect the puck. Walker put his arms around the Rangers’ defenseman to slow him up and he was called for holding.

“That was the safest thing possible for me to do is to wrap him up and take him in the corner like that,” Walker said to NBC Sports Washington on Friday. “Personally, I didn't think it was a good call on the ref's side, but that's the way it goes.”

Just over a minute later, Chris Kreider deflected a shot that was going wide past Braden Holtby for the power play goal to tie the game at 3.

A third period mistake that tied the game from a player in and out of the lineup could have been a devastating moment for Walker, but head coach Todd Reirden was adamant after the game that he did not want Walker to lose his aggressiveness or change the way he plays as a result of Wednesday’s mistake.

“I insert him to be aggressive and his intensity was something we needed,” Reirden said. “I thought he won a lot of puck battles earlier in the game and at different points. He's pursuing the puck trying to force a turnover and it ends up as a call against. That's I think a tough call in that situation, but we're able to pick him up and if there's a guy on our team that we want to rally around and try to come back for, it's someone like that with a work ethic and just commitment and dedication and how he is as a teammate.”

Luckily for Walker, the Caps were still able to get the win thanks to Matt Niskanen’s overtime goal. Those were nervous moments for him watching as the team tried to overcome his mistake.

“It's definitely nerve-wracking for sure,” Walker said. “You kind of feel like you're the reason why they got back into the game. I personally thought we were all over them in the third period up until they got that goal. I think we still played really well, but obviously the play with the lead is a lot nicer than playing tied up 10 minutes to go in the third. It was nerve-wracking, but it was good that the guys came through and we got the two points at the end of the day so that's the main thing.”

The fact that Walker’s mistake did not end up costing the team will make it easier for Reirden’s message to sink in. It’s his aggressiveness that makes him valuable. One mistake should not make him change that aspect of his game.

Said Reirden, “It's something that if he stops hunting pucks and creating havoc up ice then he's just a very average player that's going to find himself in and out of the league.”

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Capitals vs. Panthers: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

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Capitals vs. Panthers: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Washington Capitals (3-2-1, 7pts) are coming off of an overtime thriller at home over the Rangers thanks to Matt Niskanen's crafty timing.

Through the first six games of the season, Washington is undefeated on Wednesdays, yet has failed to win consecutive games. The Caps hope to change that trend Friday night at home vs. the Florida Panthers (0-2-2, 2pts).

The Panthers have yet to win a game this season, with each of the four games being decided by just one goal. The Panthers have no problem scoring, netting at least five goals in two of the first four games, but have failed to seal the deal. This is where the defending Stanley Cup champions will need to capitalize.

Only the Maple Leafs (33) and Hurricanes (33) have scored times more than the Capitals (24). Washington has a clear advantage in firepower. The biggest key to victory is keeping the space in front of Braden Holtby clean as a whistle. If the Caps control their goalmouth, they should have no issues dispatching the Panthers.

Here is everything you need to know about the Friday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington. 

CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: Friday, October 19, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Panthers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: Watch Capitals vs. Panthers on the NBC Sports Washington live stream page and the NBC Sports MyTeams App.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS-PANTHERS TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Caps FaceOff Live
6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
7:00 PM: NHL: Florida Panthers at Capitals 
9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live
10:00 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS vs. PANTHERS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: Travis Boyd (OUT, IR), Tom Wilson (OUT, Suspension)

Panthers: Michael Haley (OUT, Leave of Absence), Roberto Luongo (OUT, MCL injury), Mike Matheson (OUT, Suspension) 

CAPITALS vs. PANTHERS PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Evgenii Dadonov, W, Panthers: Dadonov is leading the Panthers this season with two goals and two assists on the season.

John Carlson, D, Capitals: Carlson had a heck of a game vs. the Rangers Wednesday night with a goal and two assists. The Capitals practiced faceoffs in practice leading up to Wednesday night's game and all of the practice paid off with Carlson's goal coming right off the faceoff from Backstrom. 

CAPITALS vs. PANTHERS SERIES HISTORY

Number of all-time Meetings: 123

All-Time Series Record: 64-50-9

Playoff Record: N/A

Last Meeting: Panthers beat Capitals 3-2 (2/22/2018)

Last 10 Meetings: Tied 5-5 

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