Starting Lineups: The Resurrection Of The Crosby-Ovechkin RivalryHockey, The Rev — By Rev. P. Revere on December 13, 2013 at 10:11 am
The year was 2005, and at the time, the National Hockey League was not exactly in the greatest of states. You see, the NHL was trying to wash off the stench of missing an entire season, as the owners locked out the players for what would have been the 2004-05 campaign, a season that never was.
Coming off that deflating lockout, the NHL desperately needed a jolt to win back fans and regain traction in the U.S. market. Enter Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
The two most highly touted wunderkinds since Eric Lindros, a pair of No. 1 overall picks, burst onto the scene with ridiculously high expectations — and the weight of North American professional hockey on their shoulders.
As it turned out, the top overall pick for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2005 NHL Draft, Sidney Crosby, and the top overall pick for the Washington Capitals in 2004, Alexander Ovechkin, would have no trouble whatsoever fulfilling those expectations and carrying that weight.
The duo went wire to wire in one of the most incredible Calder Trophy races ever, with both immediate superstars topping 100 points. When it was all said and done, Ovechkin’s 52-goal, 54-assist season edged Crosby’s 39-goal, 63-assist debut for Rookie of the Year. But more importantly, a captivating rivalry was born, and the NHL had its two newest poster children to lead hockey out of the stigma the lockout cast and into a new, exciting era.
In year two, Crosby ascended to the best in the world, taking home the Hart Trophy with a league-leading 120 points, while Alexander the Great posted 46 goals and 46 assists, proving neither phenom was a fluke.
From there, the two just kept going back and forth. Ovechkin followed Crosby’s Hart Trophy with back-to-back Harts of his own in 2008 and 2009, leading the league with 65 goals and 112 points in ’07-’08 and again leading in goals in ’08-’09 with 56. And while Ovie was doing that, Sid was leading to the Pens to back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final, hoisting the greatest trophy in sports in 2009.
The rivalry was in full effect. Sid was considered the best all-around player in the world, a center who not only was a great passer and scorer, but who also became very good in the face-off circle, learned to deal with physical play and turned into a true two-way stud, while Ovechkin became the greatest sniper alive.
But then, following his third straight 50-goal campaign in 2010-11, Ovie’s numbers dipped and the Caps went from one of the top teams in the East to one that could not seem to get out of its own way. He by no means became pedestrian — putting up back-to-back 30-plus goals in the next two seasons — but he did not look the same … and people were wondering what the hell happened.
Meanwhile, Sid caught the concussion bug, limiting his ice time. No one questioned his game the way Oveckin’s game was questioned … but they did question if he would go the way of Lindros before him. Suddenly, the rivalry was dead — Ovie in decline, Sid off the ice. It looked to be over for good.
But then, Crosby returned in last year’s lockout-shortened season and was up to his old tricks, posting 41 assists in just 36 games … and Ovechkin proved the rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated, leading the league in goals with 32 and taking home this third Hart Trophy as league MVP.
And this year, the rivalry is fully back. Crosby sits atop the league in points for the Metropolitan-leading Penguins, while Ovechkin leads the league in goals by a healthy early-season margin for the Capitals, who sit at second in the Metropolitan behind Sid’s Pens.
So after a brief hiatus, the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry has been fully resurrected … and that’s great news for both the NHL and NHL fans everywhere.