By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
PITTSBURGH, Nov. 22 -- The score sheet credited Sidney Crosby with having registered a goal and an assist for the Penguins, and showed Alex Ovechkin with an assist for the Washington Capitals. It didn't make any mention of the big-picture significance of the meeting between the game's top rookies.
A rivalry was born in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 16,978 at Mellon Arena, where Crosby helped the Penguins storm to a four-goal lead, then hang on for a 5-4 victory, despite the best efforts of Ovechkin to procure a different outcome.
"They both played great," Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig said. "This is the first time I've seen Crosby play live, and he's something special. But we've got something special over here, too. They are going to face each other a ton of more times in their careers. It's going to be fun to watch, that's for sure."
The highly anticipated matchup was the first on NHL ice between Crosby and Ovechkin, two budding stars whom league officials hope rekindle widespread interest in the sport. The pair already has invited comparisons to Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux and Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.
That's lofty company for two players not two months into their NHL careers. Tuesday night, Crosby and Ovechkin did their best to live up to the hype, often the best players on the ice.
"It's exciting considering where we've been in the NHL," said Pittsburgh Coach Ed Olczyk, referring to last year's lockout. "It's something that was real special and a lot of people were talking about it."
Crosby, Pittsburgh's first overall draft pick in July, needed all of 12 minutes to add another highlight-quality goal to his expanding collection. The 18-year-old center took a pass from Ziggy Palffy at the blueline, kicked the puck from his skate onto his stick and blasted down the middle of the ice. He split Capitals defensemen Brendan Witt and Steve Eminger, faked Kolzig to the ice and then lifted the puck high into the net to put the Penguins ahead 3-0 just 11 minutes 53 seconds into the game.
Ovechkin, the Capitals' No. 1 choice in 2004, thought he had answered with a scintillating score of his own in the second period, when, after faking Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney by threading the puck between his own skates, he skated in alone on Sebastien Caron. But the Penguins' goalie managed to get just enough of the puck to keep it out of the net. Ovechkin had already raised his stick to celebrate.
"I thought I scored," Ovechkin said. "But it was a good save. Tomorrow we play Tampa and we must forget this game. And play tomorrow, hard."
After the game, Ovechkin rode a stationary bike, hunched over and alone in a chilly corridor outside the Capitals' locker room. The game meant something extra to him, too, and he took the loss particularly hard. He also wore an ice pad on his right shoulder, the result of a cross-check by Mark Recchi on his first shift of the game.
"It's okay," he said, forcing a smile.
Crosby took 24 shifts, logged 19:16 of ice time and put four shots on goal. Ovechkin took 27 shifts for a total of 25:17 and also had four of the Capitals' season-high 45 shots on goal.
"He's a great player, he made some great plays out there" Crosby said of Ovechkin. "He's got great hands, is a powerful skater and made some nice moves out there. He played pretty well."
None of the Caps played well in the first period, when after just 14:46 they were down 4-0.
Palffy gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal. Ric Jackman, Crosby and Lasse Pirjeta scored goals over the next 9:38 to extend the lead to 4-0.
In the second period, Capitals grinder Chris Clark banged in a puck from the side of the goal and Brooks Laich scored into an empty net after Caron misplayed the puck to give the visitors hope at 4-2. Palffy's second goal of the game made it 5-2 and was the result of a perfectly placed cross-ice pass from Crosby, delivered as he spun.
But in the third period, a goal by Matt Pettinger (Ovechkin's pass set up the breakaway score) and another, shorthanded, about two minutes later by Brian Willsie, brought the Capitals to within 5-4 with 13:31 left to play.
"It's the reverse of what happened in Montreal," Kolzig said. "We saw what a good start can do for us and what a bad start can do."
The good news for Ovechkin is he gets three more chances this season to redeem himself against Crosby. The bad news is he must wait until Jan. 25, when the Capitals visit Pittsburgh again.
Capitals Note: Ovechkin publicly addressed the lawsuit filed against him by his former Russian team, Moscow Dynamo, which claims it owns his contractual rights. "I don't think about it right now," he said. "I know they only want money." The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeks to prevent Ovechkin from playing for the Capitals. "We have really lodged a claim in the Washington court, seeking to acknowledge the validity of our contract with Alexander Ovechkin," Dynamo President Anatoly Kharchuk told the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Monday. "We want the hockey player to meet his commitments set forth in it. That is play for Dynamo." Sources with knowledge of the case say Dynamo does not want Ovechkin to return to play for them, but rather seeks monetary compensation.