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!

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).