Verdicts on Ovechkin vs. Crosby now seem premature

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By Dan Steinberg
Friday, May 14, 2010

"Call it heart or soul or character or whatever you want, but the Capitals don't seem to have it," ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote last month, after the Caps were upset in seven games by the Canadiens. "And until they find it, it's hard to imagine there won't be more of these shocking conclusions in the nation's capital."

The result against Montreal was disappointing, discouraging and unpleasant. Among other things, it left me with nothing to write about for the next two months. And yet I still recoiled a bit at the grander metaphysical truths that were drawn from a one-goal Game 7 loss.

"Since [Sidney Crosby] and Alexander Ovechkin entered the NHL together in 2005-06, the question has been: Who's better, Sid or Ovie?" Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber wrote in the magazine's current edition. "The answer, until further notice, arrived last week when Crosby took a commanding lead in playoff scoring, while Ovechkin failed to carry Washington past the upstart Canadiens."

So now what? Now that Crosby exited in meeker fashion against the exact same Montreal team, is the answer at least a bit murkier?

And since the Pittsburgh fans who inexplicably subscribe to this paper already are typing out their profanity-laced e-mails, let me point out that yes, Crosby won a Stanley Cup already. Yes, he won an Olympic gold. Yes, his postseason résumé has a few more lines than Ovechkin's. And yes, this entire exercise is the domain of idle minds with petty grudges.

But the point is, media members were jockeying to be first with the argument not that Crosby's body of work over five years is superior to Ovechkin's, but that this spring's results end the debate.

"Can Ovechkin be the greatest player in the world but fail to drag his team out of the first round of the playoffs, against the worst of 16 teams to make the postseason, with the deciding Game 7 on home ice?" Tracee Hamilton wrote in these pages.

"Start the Elway clock on Alex the Great," demanded Martin Fennelly in the Tampa Tribune. "Or is it the Marino clock?"

"How do you explain the fact that Ovechkin failed to score a goal in the two final crucial games?" wondered the CBC's Tim Wharnsby.

Well, in the seven-game series against Montreal, Ovechkin had 5 goals, 5 assists and 34 shots and was a plus-5. Against the exact same team, in the same number of games, Crosby had 1 goal, 4 assists and 17 shots and was a minus-1.

But what, you ask, of their history in games facing elimination? In nine such games, Ovechkin is a plus-6, averaging 1.22 points per game. Crosby's only faced elimination seven times; he's a minus-1 in those games, averaging 0.86 points.

Aside from petty online feuding, is there any real value in Pittsburgh's loss? Bruce Boudreau thinks so. The Capitals coach was on Toronto's 590 last week and was asked if he's able to watch hockey again.

"You know me, that's all I do is watch hockey," Boudreau said. "And for me not to be able to watch it through the first weekend was pretty tough. Gradually, [I'm] watching now, hoping for teams either to win or lose so I've got better things to say to my team come next year. . . . If Montreal wins, [I'm] saying, 'Listen, we weren't as bad as people are making us out to be, Montreal played really good.' "

"Not as bad as people are making us out to be" isn't the goal at the beginning of the season. But hey, it's better than the alternative.


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