Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are widely considered the best players in pro hockey today. For the first five seasons of their careers, they alternated individual awards, and were part of a constant debate about which was truly the best.
Here's seven reasons (in no particular order) why Crosby has taken the lead.
Sidney Crosby is a proven winner. He’s won (or been to the finals) everywhere he’s played from high school straight through to the NHL. His resume begins with a US national high school championship, while playing for Shattuck St. Mary’s in the 2002-03 season. Then, a silver medal in the 2004 World Junior Hockey Championships, followed by gold in the 2005 WJHC, and a QMJHL Championship, along with a berth and MVP award in the 2005 Memorial Cup tournament.
When Crosby got to the NHL, it took a couple of years, but he captained the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, where they went on to lose to the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings. The following year, they got their revenge, as Crosby became the youngest captain in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup. Finally, in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Crosby scored the gold medal-winning goal, as he added another trophy to his mantle.
Ovechkin, on the other hand, has been a proven loser almost everywhere he’s played. He does have a gold medal from the 2003 WJHC, but he was a 16-year old who wasn’t a leader on the team, and a 2008 World Championship gold medal, which came in a tournament Crosby didn’t play in because he was busy leading his team to the Cup finals.
Crosby’s playoff record is 38-24, including two trips to the Cup finals, and the Penguins series record is 7-4.
Ovechkin’s playoff record is 13-15, which isn’t terrible, but his Capitals have only won one of four playoff series since he joined the team, and have been a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference each time.
Plus, the Penguins knocked out the Capitals in the only series Crosby and Ovechkin have played against each other.
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were both weak defensively when they entered the league in 2005-06. Since then, Crosby has attended every penalty kill meeting for the Penguins for his first four seasons without ever taking a regular shift on the PK. In 2009-10, Crosby played an average of 0:53 per game on the penalty kill, and is taking a regular PK shift this year as well.
Ovechkin does not play regularly on the PK. Crosby has also worked very hard in practice to improve on his face-offs. In 2005-06, he won face-offs at a rate of 45.5 percent, whereas in 2009-10, and thus far in 2010-11, he has won 55.9 percent of his face-offs. This amounts to almost 200 more face-off wins per season. Ovechkin’s career plus-minus is 70, to Crosby’s 49, which is a factor of the regular season success of their teams, and the varied reliance on each player in critical situations. This season, Crosby is plus-16, while Ovie is only plus-8.
Furthermore, Crosby’s defensive game has come so far that Dan Bylsma now matches Crosby against the opposition’s top line on a regular basis. Crosby has already learned the lessons of playing both ways that it took many of the game's greats, such as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, so many years to realize they had to learn, which has substantially contributed to his winning pedigree.
Crosby and Ovechkin have achieved similar career numbers, but with vastly different quality linemates. In five of six years (including this season), Crosby has outscored both of his linemates combined. Ovechkin has outscored both linemates combined in only two of six seasons. In their six seasons in the league, Crosby’s primary linemates have scored a total of 389 points, whereas Ovechkin’s primary linemates have scored 733 points, or almost double Crosby’s. Despite this, Ovechkin has managed 565 career points in 428 games to Crosby’s 557 in 402, a lower points-per-game average.
Crosby is still only 23 years old, being born August 7, 1987, and Ovechkin is 25, born on September 17, 1985. Crosby has had four less years of professional experience (Ovechkin played four pro seasons in Russia before joining the NHL), and Crosby is still getting better, as evidenced by Crosby’s improved defense and goal-scoring in the past year.
This season, so far, Crosby seems to have found an even higher level for his game. He’s scoring at an obscene 1.65 points-per-game, playing against the opposition’s top line, and has an active 18-game point streak, in which he has 20 goals and 16 assists.
Perhaps even more impressive, Sid already has 25 points more than the next player on his team, which would be good for the top spot on 13 teams in the league. Ovechkin, however, seems to be having somewhat of an off year, with only 1.13 points-per-game, and a mere 0.38 goals-per-game, which is 0.3 less than his career average before this season. Crosby’s 15 points up on Ovie already, and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Sidney Crosby is a more serious, down-to-earth, lead-by-example player who makes everyone around him better. Alex Ovechkin is a more exuberant, extroverted leader who, instead of making everyone around him better in crucial times, makes everyone around him irrelevant. Ovechkin hogs the puck, takes shots from impossible angles, and tries to do everything himself when the going gets tough.
While Crosby has taken the indisputable lead in this race, it is by no means over. If and when Alex Ovechkin makes the effort to become a better all around player, and learns to use the extremely good players around him, he and the Washington Capitals may become an unstoppable force, and Ovie might be considered the better player. Until then, no one can deny that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. Bring on the Winter Classic!