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.”
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.”