Not for some fans.
Not for some players, either.
“As a season ticket holder, it’s probably the number one ticket you’re trying to find in your pack to make sure it’s there,” Capitals winger Mike Knuble said. “With Sid’s injury, it taints it a little bit, in my opinion. I remember those games, even before the Winter Classic, those were just great hockey games, with the league’s two top guys. The players around them wanted to play hard for them, make their superstar look the best.
“When one’s missing,” Knuble added, “it comes down a little bit.”
Asked how Crosby’s absence affects him, Ovechkin said he misses the challenge.
“It’s something the league is missing, the fans are missing,” the Capitals captain said. “He’s one of the best players in the league. It’s hard to see he’s not playing. . . . I enjoy playing against him.”
Crosby always brought out the best in Ovechkin, and vice versa. From the 2005-06 season through 2009-10, Crosby scored 12 goals in 19 regular season games against the Capitals. During the same span, Ovechkin registered 17 goals in 20 games.
But Crosby has been limited to three games against the Capitals the past two seasons. He has only one goal. Ovechkin, meantime, has suited up for all six games but has only two goals.
“Parts of the rivalry are still there,” Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma said in an interview after Monday’s practice at Consol Energy Center. “In recent years, it was built up as ‘The Matchup.’ It certainly took that shape in 2009. They were the two best players in the game.
“Some of the games recently haven’t had that same flavor because of either Ovi not being at the top of his game, or where he was, or Sid not being there,” he added. “It’s got a different flavor.”
Which is to say it’s been decidedly bland — a possibility that seemed unfathomable only three years ago.
Who could forget that February afternoon on F Street when the rivalry escalated to new heights on national television? Crosby shoved Ovechkin after the two bumped near the benches. Ovechkin responded by ripping off Crosby’s helmet and waving dismissively toward him as the two exchanged profanities.
Then, a month a half later in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the game’s brightest stars were again at the center of the hockey universe after they recorded dueling hat tricks. Ovechkin’s Capitals won the battle that night, 4-3. But Crosby’s Penguins won the war, advancing four games to three.
“The fun things about those games was watching Ovi and Sid going at it,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “That was so fun to watch and it was always on NBC.”