Crosby, Ovechkin no longer equals

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:50 PM ET

Once again, their names were linked on Thursday, just as they always seem to be: Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, again finalists for the Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League’s most valuable player.

Ovechkin was an obvious candidate this season, Crosby not so obvious.

That was the regular season. Now, this is the season that matters and, for the two players who have been One and One-Eh in the ongoing hockey debate, there is, for the first time, some real separation between the two, not just based on the remarkable differences in the style of their games.

Crosby is still alive in the playoffs. Ovechkin, again, has been prematurely eliminated.

Crosby is coming off an Olympic Games in which he celebrated gold. He didn’t dominate, but he found a way to score the goal that mattered most. Ovechkin’s Olympic highlights included a dismal loss to Team Canada, the pushing of a cameraman, his lack of accessibility, and maybe worse — as now witnessed in both Washington and while playing for Russia, his inability to lead when it matters most.

Crosby has never been better than he was in the first round against Ottawa, not just scoring, not just setting plays up, but hitting people, physically dominating, showing his teammates the way. He is — they both are — still kids, only he seems to have grasped that intangible called victory while Ovechkin understands the spectacular far more than the simple.

If they have been first among equals, they are not that anymore.

“I’d love to take credit for (Crosby’s) fine play but unfortunately I can’t,” said Steve Yzerman, who was general manager of Team Canada at the Olympics. “I think playing in two consecutive finals and living through the pressure of the Olympics, he’s starting to feel comfortable in these settings. We all forget, he’s so young and is still a few years from his prime. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, he’s only going to get better.”

In birth years, Ovechkin is two years older than Crosby. He will turn 25 in September, Crosby 23 in August. Ovechkin has played five NHL seasons now and 28 playoff games in those years. This is Crosby’s fifth NHL season: He already has played twice the number of playoff games of Ovechkin: He could be into the 70s in playoff experience before this Stanley Cup season concludes.

This isn’t just a case of 1 and 1A anymore. This is 1. Crosby; 2. Ovechkin. It is clear and concise maybe for the first time ever. And that has nothing to do with a Hart Trophy that could well be won by Henrik Sedin, who received my first-place vote for MVP this season. Sedin had an amazing year and still might not get the voting to win the Hart. If Sedin doesn’t win, almost certainly Ovechkin will. So, while the Russian may be holding the Hart Trophy in late June, the kid from Cole Harbour, N.S., may be holding — or at least playing for — another Stanley Cup.

For Ovechkin to get back into the race that matters — the one for the Cup — he can’t continue to have year after year of heartbreaking endings. This is three straight Game 7 home defeats for his Capitals. Some of that — how much, you can debate — has to fall on him. Yes, he has 20 goals in 28 playoff games, and those are crazy numbers. But there is that fine line between individual performance and making your team better.

Ovechkin, the older of the two, appears less mature than Crosby, less grounded, more individualistic. His way of bringing his team back is to take a two-minute shift and do it himself.

That may work in February in Tampa but it hasn’t worked in April in Washington.

The months that define a hockey player are not October to March. Reputations are made and lost in April and May and in February during Olympic years. This is Sidney Crosby’s time: Alexander Ovechkin is the now the Avis of NHL players. No. 2 and trying harder.


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