It's the Crosby Show
Crosby and Ovechkin renewed their rivalry this week, TFP
Columnist Greg Wyshynski examines its impact on the league and
makes the case for why Sid's the real star of the two.
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- While watching overtime in the
Pittsburgh/Washington game on Monday night, you began to
realize that this is one of the few situations in
today's National Hockey League where you actually gave a
damn about the individuals, rather than the teams, on
The crowd's reaction to every touch of the puck by Nos.
87 and 71 in white and No. 8 in black was undeniably
electrifying. I hadn't heard a hockey crowd in D.C. this
boisterous since that time they put up two dudes on the
A pumped-up arena, a national television audience,
international media attention, and a battle between a
trio of players that could carry hockey's torch for the
next two decades...
...yet for Sidney Crosby, it was just another game, even
with the man who owns his Calder Trophy skating for the
"That's the way it needs to be," he said in the jubilant
Penguins locker room, following their 5-4, come-from-behind,
victory at the Verizon Center. "The game doesn't change just
because we're playing. It's nice that we can bring attention
to the game, but at the same time we have to focus at being
better and helping our team."
Both Alexander Ovechkin and Crosby have made a concerted
effort to shift the focus of their rivalry from themselves to
that of their teams; late last season, Ovechkin even told me
that his feud with Crosby was "done." Someone obviously forgot
to relay that message to the NHL, which held a conference call
with the two stars to hype Monday's game, covered its homepage
with articles about the showdown, and sent out an e-mail blast
hours before face-off entitled "Crosby VERSUS Ovechkin" to
pimp the fact that the two would be exchanging pleasantries on
national television that evening. (VERSUS being the name of
the American cable provider for the NHL. I hear they
occasionally show ice hockey matches in between rodeos and
"It's built up so much. I think we'd be lying if we said we
weren't trying to have a good game," Crosby said. "When
there's that many people watching, who doesn't want to have a
was a good game, bordering on great, with the Penguins
overcoming a 4-0 deficit to win in a shootout. It was
also basically Gary Bettman's wet dream: decided with
a skills competition featuring (arguably) the three
most talented skill-position players in the league; a
key goal and assist for Sidney, two assists and a
shootout goal for Alex, and an assist, a game-tying
goal and a game-winning shootout goal one that
nearly faked Olie Kolzig out of his pads for Evgeni
Malkin, the newest addition to this holy hockey
For one game, the spotlight was focused on a team that
needs slot machines to keep it from relocating, and
another that can't outdraw the slot parlor at the
Trump Taj Mahal on most nights.
Fleeting as it was, this game offered a glimpse at what it is
Bettman's been trying to sell for the last 13 years the
NHL-as-NBA, a nightly battle of individual talents uninhibited
by systems that promote defense or rules that discourage
It's always been a foolhardy plan, because the NHL has the
star-making capability of a black hole, and because you can't
market the ultimate team game with talent that's only in the
spotlight one-third of the time. (Too bad the NHL isn't a Sega
Genesis game Bettman could just use the "no line changes"
option and keep Sid and Alex out there for the full 60.) But,
for one night, the stars were shining, quite brightly.
By now, the dies have been cast in this rivalry. Ovechkin is
the free spirit, rough around the edges, and a raging
freight-train-of-a-player on the ice. Crosby is the confident,
born-to-be-a-star prodigy, whose brilliant talent has been
matched sometimes overshadowed by a growing reputation for
petulance. These personas were never more evident than in
three moments during this game.
There was the first-period tripping penalty on Crosby one he
quickly disputed on his way to the sin bin, and one that saw
the Penguin mouth an expletive on live television that would
have made Samuel L. Jackson blush.
There was the set-up for the Capitals' third goal, a
quintessential "Ovechkin play" as he bulled his way into the
Penguins' zone, and then showed unparalleled strength in
knocking Brooks Orpik down in the Pittsburgh crease while
whacking away at the puck keeping it alive long enough for
Chris Clark to cash in.
And then there was Crosby, at 18:43 of the second period,
silencing his critics and wiping the slate clean with a quick
blast from the slot that beat Kolzig and closed the lead to a
single goal entering the third. It was arguably the most
important goal of the game for the Penguins, and was scored by
their unquestioned on-ice leader.
Every hockey message board in North America has a thread
debating the virtues of Crosby and Ovechkin. Who has more
talent? Who means more to his team? Who should start in the
all-star game, with the honor of lining up against Rory
The bottom line is that Ovechkin became Ovechkin last season
for two reasons: The Phoenix Goal and Sidney Crosby. If he
didn't have Sid as his foil, his nemesis, his measuring stick
in his rookie season, he would have been Ilya Kovalchuk, only
with highlight-reel body-checks and a personality transplant.
Crosby was already a megastar, thanks to the "Sidney Crosby
Derby" and the Gretzky endorsements and the special draft
lottery. Ovechkin needed that rub to get over the top and
become a sensation. It's like with professional wrestling, or
with comic books: the face is only as good as his heel, the
hero only as good as his villain.
That Crosby is, at the same time, the constant complainer, the
occasional diver, and perhaps the most talented young player
in the NHL makes him a more vital star to the league than
Ovechkin. Mainly because people generally like Ovechkin, and a
lot of them don't like Crosby. And that divisive quality is
what made us stop and watch Messier and Mario and Lindros in
ways we never made time for guys like Yzerman, Sakic and
Whatever it is that makes us cast a fresh-faced, personable
and savvy kid like Sidney Crosby as a villain, it's the same
thing that's going to keep us enthralled by him for the next
15 years. And it's the reason why every city in North America
that can freeze water and doesn't currently house an NHL
franchise is hoping to be the answer to "The ________
Penguins" in the next few years.
Someone asked Sid after the game if he felt it was unfair that
he and Ovechkin had been charged with carrying this league
and specifically for him, his franchise as hockey's most
"In my point of view, I don't feel like I have to rescue a
franchise or a league. I'm happy to be part of both, but
there's a lot of young talent that brings some excitement
besides me and Alex," he said.
The challenge for the NHL is to get us to care about those
players an iota as much as we care about "Crosby VERSUS
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, and the Senior Editor and Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.