Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby is no contest until they've both become winners

The rivalry between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby is great for hockey but right now, the Penguins star is winning the on-ice battle.
The rivalry between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby is great for hockey but right now, the Penguins star is winning the on-ice battle. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Puckville and beyond, Capitals-Penguins is must-see hockey. No one needed to be at Mellon Arena on Tuesday night for Washington's 6-3 victory over Pittsburgh to prove there is nothing moving the needle more in the NHL at the moment than Ovie vs. Sid the Kid.

Passion. Power. Panache. Scuffling supernovas on the ice, playing leapfrog with each other's legacy.

Leading a team to the Presidents' Trophy is a tremendous accomplishment. And if the pre-playoff psyche game means anything, it was nice of Ovie to awake from his post-Olympic scoring slumber with two goals in the last game of a 4-0 regular-season sweep of the Pens.

The problem for rockin'-the-red Washington at the moment is, Sidney Crosby is at least two leaps ahead in the perception game. If Alex Ovechkin doesn't play into June soon, he starts down the road of Wilt Chamberlain admiring Bill Russell's bejeweled fingers.

You know the history: One guy loads up on the numbers, scoring titles and MVPs (Wilt), while the other (Russell) points to the scoreboard and collects titles. Wilt retires a freak of nature, the greatest offensive force in the game. Russell retires the sport's greatest champion and teammate, 11 titles to Wilt's two. (One makes cheesy movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and dies way too young, while the other is treated as this wizened, salt-and-pepper sage, trotted out at every NBA happening as if Yoda had grown to 6-foot-10. But you get the point.)

"I've went back and forth on this," ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose began when asked recently to say which player he would start an NHL team with, "and I think I would go with Crosby because of his body of work and two things he's done that Alex hasn't done. Meaning the Stanley Cup he's won and the gold medal he won for Canada. Plus, his passing just makes people around him better.

"Now, Ovie is such a great scorer, fierce hitter and tough player that I could see people going that way. Bottom line is, we'll be arguing who the better player is for the next 10 years."

Well, yes -- after the Great Eight's name is engraved on the silver chalice like Crosby's. Once Ovechkin can close the deal and hoist Lord Stanley, the real arms race is on. But comparing anything except contrasting personalities and styles until then is not a fair fight. Sidney has the hardware Alex really wants.

One guy, Ovie, is a thrill-seeking human projectile, challenging the game's boundaries and, soon, its all-time records. He has won the NHL's last two MVP awards and captains the most exciting and productive team in the NHL this season, your Washington Capitals.

The other, Sid the Kid, has won everything that matters, including a Cup for the true-grit people of Pittsburgh who expect such things, and a gold medal for his birth country on home ice in about the most scintillating finish NBC could imagine. (Before the dream-sequence overtime goal beat Team USA, people forget Crosby beat Switzerland with a shootout goal in the preliminary round.) He pulled off this amazing two-fer in seven magical months, and can probably best be described as hockey's most consummate playmaker -- whether he's shooting, passing, scoring or clogging up real estate in the crease.

Because their styles, personalities and backgrounds are so different (Ovie is the playful Russian showman; Sid the lunch-pail, old-hockey soul from Nova Scotia), because they don't particularly like each other, all the ingredients are there for a decade's worth of good old sporting animosity.

"They both have goals, they're both driven and they're both very cognizant of the conversation about, 'Who's the best player in the world?' " Melrose said. "If these guys are going at it like that and there's some ill will, that's good for our sport."

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