When Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin burst onto the scene in the fall of 2005, the NHL was coming off a lockout that some believed would kill the sport. Hockey needed young stars to be the faces of the league for years to come.
The NHL hoped that both players would thrive and create an era in hockey similar to that of the Bird-Magic era in the NBA.
Six years later, despite the fact that Crosby has not played since January 5, 2011, Ovechkin and Crosby have developed a rivalry unlike any other. Because of them, the Capitals-Penguins rivalry has escalated into one of the best rivalries in sports.
Ovechkin and Crosby have already met in an epic playoff series in 2009, in the Olympics in 2010, and in the Winter Classic in 2011.
So who's the better player?
One year ago, if this question was asked, the answer would have easily been Sidney Crosby. It still is today. However, because of Crosby's concussion situation, the gap is a lot smaller.
This is because, naturally, a player is more valuable to a team if he is less injury prone. There is a huge murky cloud surrounding Crosby, making it difficult to see how he will perform after he returns.
That being said, Crosby has had the more exceptional career. Statistically he has been Ovechkin's superior.
Who is better?
Ovechkin may have 617 career points compared to Crosby's 572 points, but No. 87 has done it in less games. Crosby averages more points per game than Ovechkin. Although, the margin is small, (Crosby leads 1.39 to 1.29) it certainly invalidates the myth that Ovechkin is a better offensive contributor than Crosby.
Ovechkin may average more goals per game than Crosby, (0.63 to 0.52) but Crosby has been the bigger playmaker by averaging 0.21 more assists per game than Ovechkin. What's the significance of this?
It means that Crosby facilitates the offense to a greater extent than Alex Ovechkin.
Many argue that Crosby's numbers are better because of Evgeni Malkin, but Ovechkin also has talented wingers surrounding him in Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. He just hasn't been able to elevate them to the level Crosby has elevated Malkin.
Ovechkin is more of a goal scorer, which is fine. However, if a team wants to build their roster around a player, it makes more sense to build it around someone that makes everybody else better.
Crosby has done that.
Let's not forget, he's done it with almost minimal help at the wing position. Crosby has turned regular Joes like Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy into respectable scoring threats.
This has translated into more playoff success for Crosby's Penguins.
While Ovechkin's Capitals have not been able to advance to the Conference Finals, the Penguins have already advanced to the Stanley Cup Final twice, and won it in 2009.
Oh by the way, when they won in 2009, they had to go through Washington. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Washington, Crosby scored two goals while Ovechkin laid an egg.
Ovie's Caps followed up that season with a record breaking season in points but failed to get past the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. The Penguins failed to beat the Canadiens too that season, but the expectations for Ovechkin, who had 50 goals that year, and the Capitals, who had 117 points as a team, were a lot greater than the Penguins.
Ovechkin does have more points per game than Crosby in the playoffs. However, the advantage is slight (1.35 to 1.32). It is also important to note that Crosby has played in games outside of the second round of the playoffs. Once a team gets to the conference finals, the opponents get tougher. Add 13 tight, championship games against a stifling Detroit defense and it's understandable why Ovechkin has the slight edge. His 1.35 points per game would be lower if he had played against Detroit twice in the pressure-packed Stanley Cup Final.
OVECHKIN VS CROSBY: A WIDENING GAP
Crosby also has a significantly higher shooting percentage. Over 15 percent of his shots find the back of the net while only 12 percent of Ovechkin's shots are goals.
The reason for this is because Crosby plays very well in front of the net. He can get the beautiful highlight reel goal once in a while, but most of the time he's in front of the net deflecting pucks and getting to rebounds.
Crosby also scores in more than one way, which makes him a bigger threat. Ovechkin on the other hand has been noted to be a sniper. He's dangerous in his own way, but at times he can rely too much on his outside shot.
The gap between Crosby and Ovechkin was the greatest last January right before Crosby got hurt. While Ovechkin is a great offensive threat and a poster boy for the NHL, his numbers have been declining every year since 2007-08. After scoring 112 points that season, he only scored 85 points in 79 games last season. This season, Ovie has scored just a goal in 5 games.
Many say that this is because of Washington's new emphasis on defense. It's a valid point and it most definitely explains the decline in points. But isn't almost a 25-point drop off a little bit too much? Just because a team is playing more defense it doesn't mean scoring is irrelevant.
The Capitals still needed to score. Maybe they took less chances at the net and were more conservative offensively. But this just proves that Ovechkin is a volume scorer as mentioned above. He'll get plenty of goals, but only after leading the league in shots.
This is why Crosby's shooting percentage being greater than Ovechkin's is an important stat. It shows that Crosby does more with less.
Crosby's shooting percentage in the half season he played was almost at 20 percent. He scored 66 points in 41 games before getting hurt. Crosby is still getting better. He's improved tremendously in the scoring department showing that he can't be limited to just being a playmaker. He scored 51 goals a few years ago sharing the Rocket Richard Trophy with Steven Stamkos.
Even in international competition, Crosby edges Ovechkin. Statistically he didn't put up the best numbers in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but he did score the goal that won it all for Canada.
On the other hand, Ovechkin's Russian national team was a dud. They finished seventh in the tournament after being projected to compete against the United States and Canada for the Gold Medal. Both combatants averaged a point per game, but when they played against each other in the quarterfinals, Canada smashed Russia, 7-3.
HEAD TO HEAD:
In 21 games against Washington, Crosby has 35 points in 21 games. Ovechkin, in 25 games has 33 points. Most of Crosby's success with the Penguins against the Capitals came earlier in his career when Pittsburgh would own Washington.
In recent years, the Capitals have taken care of business against the Penguins in the regular season.
That's a good trend for the Capitals. They are gaining confidence against the Pens and if they ever meet in the playoffs this should be highly advantageous for the Caps.
But if we're comparing Crosby and Ovechkin, the advantage goes to Crosby. He's the best player in the league right now. He is better statistically, has had more success in the playoffs and Olympics, and he's made players around him better. He's also shown his versatility by turning into a goal scorer after he spent his first few years as a playmaker.
That being said, Crosby's concussion could change a lot. No one knows how he will respond on the ice when he returns. Many project he will make his highly anticipated comeback on November 11 but even that is a murky projection.
Hockey fans everywhere are awaiting his return so we could all see another heated Crosby-Ovechkin dual.
The rivalry has just started folks.