With Crosby out indefinitely, the battle between Ovechkin and countryman Evgeni Malkin shouldn’t be a bad alternative.
Malkin and the Penguins (27-17-3) look to win their second game without their injured captain on Monday when they host Ovechkin and the surging Capitals (21-21-5).
Ovechkin and Crosby were the NHL’s top overall selections in the 2004 and 2005 drafts, respectively, and due to the league’s lockout, both began their careers in 2005-06. They haven’t disappointed - Crosby is second and Ovechkin fifth in points since they entered the league.
But Crosby, the league’s reigning MVP, suffered a high ankle sprain in Pittsburgh’s 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday, leaving his linemate, Malkin, to carry the Penguins’ offensive load.
“I have been trying as hard as I can, but I’m going to try my best,” Malkin said. “I will try to be the leader of this team.”
Malkin was the No. 2 overall selection in 2004, behind fellow Russian Ovechkin. He didn’t play in the NHL until last season due to a contract dispute with his Russian club team, but he’s made quite an impact in his first 125 games as a Penguin - he has 57 goals and 138 points.
He stepped up in the team’s first game without Crosby, scoring his ninth goal in eight games as Pittsburgh beat Montreal 2-0 on Saturday to improve to 10-1-1 in its last 12 while grabbing the Atlantic Division lead.
“You lose the best player in the league, you’ve still got to be able to go out and win games and we’re going to have to do it for a month, who knows, and we’ve got to stay in the playoff race,” defenseman Ryan Whitney said.
Dany Sabourin got the start in net a night after Ty Conklin suffered his first regulation loss in 12 games this season. Sabourin made 31 saves to earn his second career shutout in his first start in nearly a month.
“He’s been working really hard and it’s been a week and a half that he’s been asking me when he was going to get back in, so he wanted to play bad,” goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said. “He had to come up with a big game, and he did.”
The Penguins have won all six games they’ve played against Washington since Malkin entered the league. He has two goals and four assists in those contests, while Ovechkin has a goal and three assists.
The Capitals have gone from the league’s worst team on Thanksgiving to being three points behind division-leading Carolina in the Southeast. They’re 8-2-1 in their last 11 games, and have won three straight.
“It’s just the beginning for us. We deserve to be in this spot,” said Ovechkin, who is second in the league with 36 goals and has scored in four straight games. “We had a terrible start of the season; we lose every game.”
The Capitals’ latest win came with some help from an improving power-play unit. They scored three goals with the man advantage, including one from Ovechkin, in a 5-3 win over Florida on Saturday.
Washington is 6-for-16 on the power play over the last three games.