Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby

Perception vs. Reality and Crosby vs. Ovechkin

When people think of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, two wildly disparate images come to mind. One is of the handsome, bland choir boy who speaks in cliches whether he just won the Cup or scored a gold medal winning goal. Some say the other guy looks like a caveman, parties like a Russian hockey playing Keith Richards and shoots fire balls at goalies like he’s Ken from Street Fighter II.*

Of course, a lot of those two descriptions are based on broad media brushstrokes founded on scant encounters and public appearances. Some might say that modern athletes keep the media (and the public) at arm’s length, but that description isn’t sufficient. After all, to be at arm’s length requires you to be in the same room as another person. Very few media types have gotten that close to Crosby and Ovechkin for any reasonable duration of time.

That’s why HBO’s unprecedented access during its 24/7 series has been so illuminating, yet the brief glimpses ultimately only give us more questions. Now I cannot claim intimate knowledge just because I own an HBO subscription, but allow me to quickly study a few ways the two players break their often self-imposed stereotypes.

Sidney Crosby: One of the boys?

Remember when everyone thought Tiger Woods was practically a golf ball launching robot who only seemed like he wanted to chase Jack Nicklaus on the courses … yet now it seems apparent he was chasing Wilt Chamberlain too? Well, I don’t think that Crosby has the same Batman/Bruce Wayne double life as Woods, but he has more personality than expected.

Now, he still can be as bland as a rice cake at times, but I think HBO revealed that Crosby fits in pretty well with his teammates and displays some sense of humor. There were great moments during the team’s plane trips in which Crosby was playing PSP games with his teammates and cutting it up, but one of the most interesting moments involved him discussing his much-ridiculed fight with Matt Niskanen.

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Does this mean that Crosby might be a party animal, deep down? No, I doubt that. Instead I think he’s a pretty normal guy whose blind devotion to hockey means that he won’t be caught with Russian (or Canadian) co-eds left and right like the Magic Johnson to his Larry Bird.

(Or does Crosby=Magic and Ovechkin=Bird instead? We could debate that for ages – and I would enjoy that.)

Alex Ovechkin: momma’s boy?

Conversely, the image attached to Ovechkin is that of a party animal who lavishes himself with fast women and fast cars. While that persona might be an element of Ovechkin’s personality, it doesn’t provide the whole picture.

There’s one thing about both Crosby and Ovechkin that people forget because of their absurd success and talents: they’re both still kids. Crosby is only 23 years old and Ovechkin is 25. If they remain healthy, each player should have at least 10 more years to write their career narratives.

HBO revealed just how much of a kid Ovechkin can be by showing him at home, eating his parents’ food and playing video games. Now, some noted that his parents aren’t always there, but this clip illustrates the fact that he isn’t just a wild millionaire athlete but also a young adult still growing up. This makes him just like his rival, a person who can still reasonably be called “Sid the Kid.”

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* – My memory/actual knowledge of Capcom’s fighting game mythology is hazy, but I believe that Ken was more of a party animal than Ryu. If nothing else, he had blond hair and seemed more stylish in his red dogi.

Flames get Johnny Gaudreau back way ahead of schedule

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Some good news if you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames.

Johnny Gaudreau, who missed 10 games with a finger injury, will be back in their lineup for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Flames forward was injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 (he was slashed by Eric Staal), and after he underwent surgery, the team announced that he’d be out six weeks.

In the end, he missed less than three weeks of action.

“I’m ready to play,” Gaudreau said, per NHL.com. “I think the finger’s healed up pretty well there. I’m just excited to get things going here.

“I think they did a great job with my finger and we did a great job rehabbing it. They keep tell me it’s going to be harder to break the nine other fingers than to re-hurt this one. It feels good. It feels good when I shoot. I’m excited to finally get out of there.”

He’ll be playing with some added protection, as Calgary’s equipment manager made this glove for him:

Before Gaudreau got hurt, the Flames had a 6-10-1 record. But thanks to improved team play and some strong performances from goalie Chad Johnson, they managed to go 6-3-1 in, while Gaudreau was out.

The 23-year-old has five goals and six assists in 17 games, but he had scored three goals in three games before getting hurt.

Related:

Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are treated

Boudreau: Flames made “mountain out of a molehill” over Gaudreau slash

Garret Sparks plays for first time since being suspended by Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 30:  Garret Sparks #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets set to face the Edmonton Oilers in an NHL game at Air Canada Centre on November 30, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Oilers 3-0. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Garret Sparks made waves for all the wrong reasons last week, as he was suspended by the Maple Leafs for remarks he made on social media.

Sparks officially made his return on Saturday night in the Marlies’ 3-2 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack. He stopped 27 of 30 shots.

“It’s been a lot to deal with. I understand what I did,” Sparks said, per TSN.ca. “[The incident] wasn’t me. That’s not who I want to be known as, it’s not the image I want my reputation to have.

“I should know the difference between what I can and can’t say. It’s just holding myself to a higher standard of professionalism.”

The 23-year-old actually returned to the team on Tuesday, but didn’t play until yesterday.

With Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen dealing with an illness, the Leafs recalled Antoine Bibeau, which opened the door for Sparks to make his return.

Sparks has been limited to just five AHL games this year, but he was between the pipes for 17 NHL games in 2015-16.

‘We were awful’: Duchene calls out Avs after latest shutout loss

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 19:  Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Edmonton Oilers at Pepsi Center on December 19, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Oilers 5-1.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Colorado Avalanche are one of those teams that’s hard to figure out.

They have plenty of offensive talent on their roster, and going from Patrick Roy to Jared Bednar was supposed to help get the most out of their star players.

But through 23 games, that hasn’t been the case.

Going into Sunday’s action, they find themselves in the basement of the Western Conference with a 9-13-1 record.

It doesn’t help that they’ve had to deal with a number of injuries. They were dealt an even bigger blow on Saturday, when they announced that Erik Johnson (leg) would be out for six-to-eight weeks.

Gabriel Landeskog and Fedor Tyutin are also dealing with lower-body injuries.

“Injuries are no excuse, but it helps to have some of those guys in the lineup,” Bednar said, per the Denver Post. “You’re missing a pair on ‘D.’ I still can’t help but feel we have more to give. .. You still have to stick with it and work through it. That’s the only way you get out of it is to work out of it.”

Colorado had an opportunity to get things on track, but they finished their latest homestand with an 0-4-1 record. Yikes!

One of the biggest problems with this team is that they can’t seem to find the back of the net with any regularity.

No team has scored less times than the Avalanche, who are tied for last with a league-worst 49 goals for. They’ve also been shut out five times already in 2016-17.

Their power play was so bad against Dallas that Bednar decided to start the man-advantage with John Mitchell and Blake Comeau at one point.

“We were awful. I totally get why he did what he did,” forward Matt Duchene said after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Dallas. “It’s frustrating. We’re just not executing right now. I think we’re overthinking things because we haven’t been winning.

“We’re not playing good hockey right now.”

With Corey Crawford out, ‘Hawks recall goalie Lars Johansson from AHL

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on January 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canadiens 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks were dealt a blow yesterday, when they announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford would miss two-to-three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy on Saturday.

With Crawford unavailable yesterday, Chicago was forced to look for an emergency backup in the Philly area. Ultimately, they settled on former temple goalie Eric Semborski.

On Sunday, they got their goaltending situation in order, as they recalled Lars Johansson from the AHL.

Johansson, 29, is in his first season in North America. He played the previous 10 years over in Sweden with Mora IK, Vasteras IK and Frolunda HC.

In the AHL, he’s posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.63 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage in 2016-17.

His numbers in the minors might not look good, but Johansson had the best goals-against-average (1.74) in the top league in Sweden last year.

The Blackhawks also sent forward Nick Schmaltz to the minors.

Schmaltz, who was Chicago’s first-round pick in 2014, made the team out of training camp, but has played limited minutes.

The 20-year-old has just one goal and three assists, while averaging 11:46 of ice time in 2016-17.

Playing a larger role with AHL Rockford should be good for his confidence.