January 21, 2010
(Reminder: The Puck Daddy/Japers' Rink Capitals vs. Penguins Viewing Party is tonight at beginning at 6 p.m. Location is the big room at Bailey's Pub & Grille at the Ballston Mall, located at 4233 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington [703-465-1300]. There's plenty of garage parking, and it's within walking distance of the Ballston-MU [Orange Line] Metro. Door prizes and much fun to be had.)
What makes the Crosby vs. Ovechkin rivalry one of the best in sports is that it's not only about Crosby or Ovechkin.
Sure, the attention paid to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals pivots on their unique hockey dichotomy: The Canadian Chosen One vs. The Russian Machine; Sid's sanctified rink-rat game vs. Ovechkin's flashy, glass-leaping heroics; Crosby's stoic leadership vs. Ovechkin's cult of celebrity. You know, all the themes and stereotypes and hyperbole so memorably amplified by that Canadian Olympic infomercial earlier this season. ("Crosby loves his parents ... Ovechkin loves the spotlight and MODELS."
But they're the figureheads for a rivalry that goes much deeper.
The teams don't like each other, especially after the Penguins dispatched the Capitals en route to the Stanley Cup. The franchises don't like each other, from Ted Leonsis C-blocking (the 'C' is for cyber!) Penguins fans from buying tickets to D.C. games to the teams' acrimonious playoff history to the fact that this rivalry has both geographic and divisional roots. The fans don't like each other, either. Granted, Capitals fans are a little more rabid in their hatred, but inferiority complexes will do that to you. (I speak as a Devils fan here.)
Is there another rivalry in hockey with the star-wattage, bitterness, history, relevance, stakes and buzz of the Capitals vs. the Penguins? If you extend that question to the rest of the sports world, there aren't many on its level in 2010, either. There are 13 games tonight in the NHL; only one is getting a prime spot on SportsCenter this evening.
Coming up, we check in with the Washington and Pittsburgh media and blogosphere as the hype builds for the first meeting between the Capitals and Penguins since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Who has the edge tonight?
How often does USA Today preview an individual regular season hockey game that's not being played in a baseball stadium? From its preview of the game, under the "what's different" category:
It's not so much about Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin(notes): The two were linked beyond their skill, their Russian heritage and their positions at the top of the 2004 draft. There was talk of a personal rivalry because of heavy hits against each other, though they got together at the 2009 All-Star Game to help Ovechkin win a skills competition event. Malkin won the scoring title and playoff MVP last season, but he has shown only flashes of that form and is out of the top 20 in scoring.
A new look for Crosby and Ovechkin: Crosby has added goal scoring to his repertoire. Last season, he scored 23 fewer goals and took 290 fewer shots than Ovechkin. This season, Crosby has taken 21 fewer shots than Ovechkin and scored two more goals. Ovechkin's biggest change: the letter on his jersey. He was named Capitals captain on Jan. 5.
Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the star vs. star rivalry in his game preview:
Ovechkin said that "on the ice you don't have friends [on opposing teams]," while Crosby said that asking if he has a warm off-ice relationship with Ovechkin is "like asking me if I'm going to be best friends with five guys on the [Philadelphia] Flyers."
All of which enhances the excitement surrounding this game, even though it doesn't figure to have a profound long-term impact on either club. "It's still a regular-season game," Crosby said. "You have to look at it like that. You have to kind of keep things in perspective."
And that is one thing, at least, on which he and Ovechkin can agree. Sort of. "For us, it's like a regular game," Ovechkin said. "But it's a pretty big game."
Adam Gretz of FanHouse points out something that was mentioned during last year's playoffs, which is that for all the Sid. vs. Ovie hype, the duo don't really see that much of each other on the ice. From his numbers breakdown:
Perhaps one of the reasons this has yet to morph into the Jordan vs. Bird rivalry the NHL has hoped for (and, for me, it hasn't) is because, even when the teams meet, the two players are rarely on the ice at the same time. My problem is that individual "rivalries" in hockey don't really work the same as they might in say, basketball, where both players are constantly on the floor playing against each other for the majority of the game. In hockey there's so many changes and so much of an emphasis on matchups that players like this don't always get a chance to actually play against each other.
Seth from Empty Netters has a great facts and figures blog about the game. Pensburgh breaks down the emotions lingering from last season, which is also something Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog did in interviewing the Caps about whether or not they've gone back to watch Game 7:
"No," David Steckel said, in what was something of a theme. "We laid an egg. There's nothing great to watch about it other than Pittsburgh winning. I don't want to see anything like that."
More from the Capitals in preparing for the Penguins:
On Frozen Blog has more on the Caps, including whether their blue line has improved since last season.
Finally, even The Pensblog gets a little philosophical in between a great "Dark Knight" reference headline and the expected Photoshop whimsy:
For as much hate as we have for the Flyers, it seems like the hatred for the Washington Capitals has begun to eclipse it. 10 years ago, a Capitals/Penguins in January was just another game. Now it is like Wrestlemania.
But why? Do we subconsciously feel the Caps are a more worthy adversary?
Perhaps. But the Capitals still have to prove that worth. This might just be another two points in the regular-season standings, but it should mean something more than that for Washington. It's the starting line for a redemptive mission whose end only comes when their captain raises the same Chalice that Pittsburgh's captain hoisted last June.