Three years ago, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis talked of his star forward Alexander Ovechkin creating a Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry with Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby.
Ovechkin took the Calder Trophy and round one in 2005-06, while runner-up Crosby came back with a vengeance in '07 as the Hart Trophy winner and league MVP. Heading into action this week, they were the only active NHLers with 200 points in their first 165 games.
But with the more articulate Crosby as captain of the Pens and that team considered Stanley Cup contenders versus the slower developing Caps, Ovechkin has been obscured a bit.
"People have to understand we are different players," Ovechkin said before two goals in last night's 7-1 romp over the Maple Leafs. "He has his way of playing, I have mine."
Asked if Crosby's heart-on-his-sleeve approach makes him more endearing to fans, especially Canadians, the Moscow-born Ovechkin shrugged.
"Me is me and Sid is Sid," he said.
But Ovechkin means just as much to his team and hopes to lead them into their first playoff spot in four seasons. Last night's win marked their most in October in six years.
"Ovie has been a treat to watch these past three years," said Caps centre Brian Sutherby. "We haven't evolved as fast as Pittsburgh, but it's not for lack of sacrifice on his part.
"I don't think you can compare him and Crosby. Sid's a playmaker; Ovie's a guy that will go right through you to score. Both are important to their teams."
It's a pivotal year for the Caps, who didn't surround Ovechkin with the kind of veteran help Crosby has enjoyed until this season, adding free agents Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov. They hope it sends the right message to Ovechkin that they won't wait forever to improve, or even risk letting him become a restricted free agent next July.
Ovechkin was hardly a one-man show last night. Boyd Gordon's opening-goal tip was a major-league play, Olaf Kolzig is 3-0 in his past three games against Toronto and the Caps have scored in 14 of the past 15 periods.
"Right now, we're in a position where we can't (afford to) lose," Ovechkin said. "We played well in the offensive zone, in the defensive zone, everywhere."