Alex Ovechkin: Fighting to keep up with Sidney Crosby

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Ovi1.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals
12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 14, 2010
Live on NBC

It seems that it is rare to find a hockey fan that likes both Sidney
Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. It’s Team Sid vs. Team Ovi and the battle can
get a bit bloody at times, as fans spew forth hate and discontent
towards the other camp.

It’s all part of the natural rivalry that has developed between the
two, as they jockey for position in the race to the be the NHL’s best
player and it’s still debatable who is in the lead. Is it Ovechkin, he
of multiple scoring titles and highlight-reel goals, who leads the most
exciting team in the NHL in front of the best home crowd the league has
to offer? Or is it Crosby, who has now won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic 
gold medal and who currently leads the NHL in scoring?

It always seemed that Ovechkin was in the lead in this race over the years, but he’s fallen behind. The world has embraced
Sid the Kid and now Ovechkin must catch up. With the Capitals facing a potential Stanley Cup finals opponent this afternoon we have to ask: is this year his best shot at doing so?

The 2010 Capitals are the best chance Ovechkin might have.

It’s been a slow build for the Capitals to get to where they are now,
and there’s no doubt they are they best they’ve been since Ovechkin
joined the team. But great teams like this don’t come along every year,
and they’ll need to take advantage of the shots they have. Last year the
Capitals had a great team, yet were stunned by the Pittsburgh Penguins
in the semifinals. I’m sure that did nothing but add more fuel to the
fire that rages inside Ovechkin, and watching Crosby hoist the cup a few
weeks later – if he even watched it – had to be painful.

I picture Ovechkin alone in a dark room, watching Game 7 in front of a
flickering television, vowing revenge on his nemesis while crushing something metallic between his hands.

“I vill destroy zat Crozzbee. I vill vin zee Stanley Cup!”

How much does the rivalry drive Ovechkin?

One thing you have to love about Ovechkin is his intense approach to
every game. Some people call it reckless, while I call it a will to win.
He never takes a game off and every shift you know he’s on the ice.
Sure, he may not be the most responsible player in his own end but he
certainly makes up for it on the scoreboard.

But how much does he think about Crosby each game? Does he watch the
scoreboard each night to see what the Penguins have done and does he
check to see how many goals Crosby scored? This is the first season that
he and Crosby have been in a race down the stretch for the league lead
in goals, and it has to frustrate the two-time “Rocket” Richard Trophy
winner. He’s been beat out for the Art Ross before by Crosby but the
Richard is his. Losing that race to Crosby in a “Year of Losing to
Crosby” would be the icing on the cake of frustration.

The good news: The Capitals aren’t just Alex Ovechkin

In the past, Alex Ovechkin has been all the Capitals had. Not so any
longer, as the team has been built around him and compliments his skill
and production in nearly every way. The Capitals aren’t a freakishly
offensive team based on Ovechkin’s goal-scoring alone; there are players
all over the roster that can put the puck in the net.

Ovechkin recently suffered through a near-catastrophic six-game
scoreless streak, yet somehow the Capitals found a way to win without
him. What’s ironic is that in the game he finally scored in – two goals –
the Capitals lost.

So perhaps the pressure is off Ovechkin a bit, so that
he can go out
and be himself on the ice knowing that the team around him is just as
capable as he is.

If Ovechkin has any hope of keeping up with Sidney
Crosby – and you
know he thinks about it – then winning the Stanley Cup this season is
all that matters. The scoring title might be a consolation prize, but
if Crosby hoists that Cup again this season the then Ovechkin would have
fallen a few horse-lengths behind in this quarter mile race.

Join us for a live chat of today’s game at 11:30 a.m.
EST, only on Pro Hockey Talk!

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers:

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off elbow, Sheary out day-to-day for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Update after the Penguins’ loss: Seemingly good news, if very early and vague: