With Canada’s big win over Germany in the play-in game tonight, hockey fans around the world will get their wish when the Russians faceoff against the fired-up Canadian squad tomorrow night. Surprisingly, while every other topic even remotely related to the events of the 2010 Games seems to have been covered ad nauseam, I have seen little discussion about the fact that the two greatest players in the world will face off with their team’s Olympic lives on the line tomorrow. With Canada’s win tonight, I’m sure that will all change, but, here’s my take on it anyways.
It’s no secret that the NHL loves to play up the rivalry between the NHL’s two biggest superstars, as evidenced by the huge fanfare that has surrounded any meeting between the Caps and Penguins. And the two players haven’t failed to disappoint. Most fans will remember the fantastic playoff series between the teams last year, which included a game that saw both Crosby and Ovechkin record hat tricks.
Let’s just start with the numbers.
In the 17 regular season games that the teams have played, Pittsburgh has won 11 games, and Crosby has outscored Ovechkin by the slim margin of 27-24 in points, while Ovechkin has 12 goals to Crosby’s 9. Both players had 8 goals in their playoff series, and while Ovechkin had one more assist, Crosby and the Penguins left with one more win, and went on to win the Cup. The only time the two have met in international play was in 2005 at the World Juniors, and while neither Crosby or Ovechkin scored, the Canadians dominated the Russians in the gold medal game, 6-1.
Ovechkin has far more experience at the senior international level, having played in 48 games, including the 2006 Olympics. In those 48 games, Ovechkin has scored 25 goals and 40 points. Crosby has played in only 8 games, but has compiled 16 points in those games.
In these Olympics, Crosby has been one of the Canadians’ best players, without a doubt, and currently has 3 goals and is tied with Dany Heatley for the tournament lead with 6 points. Ovie has 2 goals and 4 points, despite being the main target of the opposing team’s top defensive players. Both players scored shootout goals, although Sid won Canada their shootout against Switzerland, while Ovie was unable to bury the Slovaks.
This season, the two are tied for the NHL goal scoring lead, with 42 goals apiece. Crosby has turned into a much more prolific goal scorer than he has been in the past, while Ovechkin has become much better at distributing the puck, as evidenced by his 47 assists through 52 games.
As is usually the case when the two meet in NHL play, tomorrow’s game probably won’t be decided by the individual performance of either Crosby or Ovechkin. Both teams are stacked with incredible amounts of talent, and regardless of how either star performs, it will be a great game. What makes this rivalry so special though, is the fact that any time either Crosby or Ovechkin is on the ice, they have the potential to immediately change the course of a game. As a Canadian hockey fan, I’m hoping the Canadians can find a way to shut down Ovechkin, and if I was Mike Babcock, he’d be getting a heavy dose of Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews and Brenden Morrow every time he was on the ice.