Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin Rivalry Losing Appeal Fast

James ConleyContributor IIIFebruary 19, 2017

WASHINGTON - MAY 13:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates against Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinal  Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on May 13, 2009 in Washington, DC.The Penguins defeated the Capitals 6-2 to move into the semifinals.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Hype has a shelf life.

The NHL's marketing club can sell fans on the idea of a Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin rivalry to a point, and since 2005, they've taken every measure to do so.

At some point though, substance wins out, and Crosby and Ovechkin haven't had a meaningful rivalry since their only postseason meeting in 2009. Since then, the steam has gone out of this hype balloon.

Crosby missed almost a full season's worth of hockey with concussion symptoms.

Ovechkin has gone from a ruthless goal scorer to a opportunistic perimeter player.

The Penguins have won only three playoff series' since the '09 Semifinals. The Capitals, just one.

Never was the point more clear than last Thursday when the Pens and Caps faced off in a stingy 2-1 affair in Washington. It was the first time Crosby and Ovechkin shared an ice surface since the 2011 Winter Classic, and neither player registered so much as an assist.

Their combined line for the night? Four shots on goal, a minus-one and two penalty minutes.

Not the stuff of legend.

Simon Despres' NHL debut, Arron Asham's even-up bout with John Carlson, the Capitals' continued struggles under new coach Dale Hunter—each of these events proved more newsworthy and interesting than the floundering Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry.

The league has done some kind of job pitting these two against one another, but it's not often that two players at the same position (forward) have a legitimate head-to-head battle.

If the rivalry was about hockey and not hype, we'd be hearing about Ovechkin and Jordan Staal, or Crosby and Brooks Laich. Sid and Ovi both see power play time, but only Crosby sees any penalty kill time, and not much of it at that. Their paths don't cross during special teams play and only occasionally during even-strength hockey.

The two share more time on the ice during warm-ups than in any game.

If the lack of head-to-head combat has put a few holes in this boat, it's the divergence of their personal and team successes that will sink it.

Crosby has manhandled Ovechkin in all meaningful team measures—the 2010 Olympics, the NHL postseason, the 2009 Stanley Cup—and since their postseason meeting in 2009 has done so on the stat sheet as well.

While the Caps have owned the last few regular seasons, Crosby's Penguins have eight postseason series victories, two Cup finals appearances and the '09 Cup to their credit. In that span, the Capitals have won just two postseason series', never advancing past the second round.

Ovechkin has traditionally owned the statistical battle and individual awards, but even that has turned in Crosby's favor of late.

Sid has averaged 1.63 points per game in his last two seasons, by far the best such average in the league. Conversely, Ovechkin has averaged exactly one point per game in that span, far below his averages from 2005-2009, years in which he never averaged fewer than 1.12 PPG and often much better.

Stats aside, it's also becoming clear that Crosby is much more comfortable and effective than Ovechkin in the role of team captain.

Crosby is rightly regarded as a less talented player than Ovechkin, but his work ethic has helped to legitimize his Captaincy in a Penguins organization that makes no exception for talent over effort.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin is sharing the blame for former coach Bruce Boudreau's firing. Boudreau was let go of after losing his locker room, a point never made clearer than when television cameras caught Ovechkin using unmentionable terms to describe his coach after being benched late in a game against the Anaheim Ducks.

These teams were true rivals when they gave fans the now-classic 2009 Semifinals series. Their biggest game since then? A rain-soaked Winter Classic in which David Steckel's elbow stole the show and Franco Harris threw footballs into a hockey net.

The Capitals are still struggling to find themselves under Dale Hunter and the Penguins already have a genuine rival in the Philadelphia Flyers. On both sides, there are bigger goings-on than the Crosby-Ovechkin show.

It's going to take another playoff series on the order of the '09 Semifinals to turn this piece of long-in-the-tooth marketing fluff into something hockey fans can find interest in, but another pair of virtuoso performances from Sid and Ovi is just what the rivalry needs.

And don't look now, but the Penguins are currently first in the East. The Capitals, eighth.