Some notes from Pittsburgh's morning skate, including the fact that Penguins center Evgeni Malkin will sit out Wednesday night against the Capitals because of a sore foot. But first -- what else? -- Sid vs. Alex.
As of this writing, the top nine news items on NHL.com focused on Washington-Pittsburgh. Because the media -- and particularly, it seems, the Canadian media -- needs to continually come up with ways to hype the Ovechkin-vs.-Crosby angle of each Washington-Pittsburgh game, there were several questions lobbed at Sidney Crosby and his teammates this morning about this being his first matchup with Alex Ovechkin since Canada's 7-3 drubbing of Russia in the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament. The thought was, according to one reporter from TSN, that Crosby has taken another step ahead of Ovechkin in the public eye because now not only does he have the Stanley Cup he won a year ago, but he has an Olympic gold medal -- a gold Canada won with his own overtime goal -- while Ovechkin went home without a medal.
"There's nothing I can do to really change that or affect that," Crosby said. "I'm not stupid. I don't think this is going to be the last time him and I play each other, or the last time we're going to play each other in the Olympics or the playoffs. Early on, we've seen each other a lot, and I've been fortunate enough to have those things happen, but you know what? We're still young. There's a lot of time left.
"I think the best time to judge players is after their career and things like that. I think I evaluate myself after every year, but by no means do I compare myself to him based on that. I never will. My goals don't change based on what he does, and I'm sure it's the same for him. The things that drive us will always be the same no matter what."
Nicely downplayed. The Penguins, though, did give the Capitals their due, to an extent. Yes, Pittsburgh is tied with New Jersey with 90 points, second-most in the Eastern Conference. But the Penguins are 16 points behind the Capitals, who should lock up home-ice throughout the East soon. Pittsburgh is battling the Devils for the second seed, and if the Penguins don't win the Atlantic Division, they'll fall to the fourth seed in the playoffs. The Capitals have already wrapped up the Southeast Division.
"These guys have been top of the league all year, top of the conference by a wide stretch," veteran Bill Guerin said. "They've had a great year, so we're definitely looking at them to see how we measure up against Washington."
Are the Caps, though, the best team Crosby has seen this year? Keep in mind the Caps have won the previous two meetings between these two teams -- an impressive 6-3 victory on Jan. 21 in Pittsburgh, and then the thrilling, come-from-behind, one-of-the-best-games-in-franchise-history 5-4 win Feb. 7 at Verizon Center, a game in which the Caps trailed 4-1 but won in overtime.
So, Sid, what say you?
"They're one of a bunch, probably," Crosby said. "I don't think there's any clear-cut number one. It's a pretty competitive league, but offensively they can put goals up pretty quickly. They've got a ton of depth and play a fast game. On their power play, they can score. That's something that's been their identity for a couple of years."
Malkin out: The second-line center didn't skate this morning and won't play against the Capitals. He was originally hurt 10 days ago, sat out twice, then played Saturday against Carolina. He re-injured the foot late in that game, and then missed Monday's 3-1 loss at Detroit. Pittsburgh Coach Dan Bylsma said the team doesn't have a target for Malkin's return -- the Capitals travel to Pittsburgh April 6 -- but said: "It's not a long-term situation at this point."