Monday, May 2, 2016

Ovechkin, Crosby in Back Seat

The billing from the very start, before the playoffs and during the rebuilds, was always Crosby vs. Ovechkin.  They were the Bird and Magic of the NHL.  Their first playoff meeting together delivered the goods.  This time around has been anything but.

In 2009 Crosby and Ovechkin were at their peak.  It was them against the world against each other.  With chips on their shoulders that only youth and expectations can bring, the hockey world was delighted to see the two go head to head in what would surely be the first of many playoff dust ups.  And it was worthy of the billing.

Going seven games, Crosby and Ovechkin imposed their wills on the opposite teams.  With eight goals and five assists, including a back breaking break away goal in Game 7, Crosby asserted himself in front of the hoards watching at home.  The Great 8's stats were even better.  Eight goals, six assists, and no one could blame him for the Penguins advancing.  They'd both done their part.

In 2016, seven years later, we finally have the long awaited sequel.  Crosby vs. Ovechkin means so much more in the post season than the countless times they've met in the regular season, and with both players bouncing back from recently lulls in their historic production levels it looked to be taken to another level.

Instead it's been downplayed from the start, with both teams playing it off as being Pittsburgh vs. Washington, not Crosby vs. Ovechkin.  And through two games each team could not have been more correct.

With the series tied at 1-1, the storylines are not on either player.  Instead you have new villains born of Tom Wilson, going knee-to-knee with Conor Sheary.  Last time they met?  It was Ovechkin doing Gonchar dirty that way.  There are new heroes to speak of, with TJ Oshie winning Game 1 with his overtime hat trick.  Last time around it was Crosby with the hat trick.

The names Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, TJ Oshie, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Brooks Oprik, Matt Murray, and Eric Fehr mean more to this series than either Crosby or Ovechkin.  And there's nothing wrong with that.

While both Crosby and Ovechkin have been stymied (only one assist, Ovechkin's, to show between them) it's allowed for the depth of each team to shine.  Oshie, already somewhat known for his Olympic shoot out epic, saw his stature grow.  Bonino, scoffed at as no more than a third line center, has been a key cog in a hot line with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.  Orpik and Wilson are now persona non gratas while Matt Murray's star shines brighter, the 21 year old stopping Alex Ovechkin on multiple chances in Game 1.

This is the least Ovechkin and Crosby have mattered when facing off against each other.  While both effective and playing well, their contributions have been marginal at best when it comes to the score sheet.  In the past this may have mean their teams would play boring, low scoring games.  Instead they're allowed to take a back seat to the star power around them.

It's okay that Ovechkin and Crosby are not living up to their billing.  Two games in, there's plenty of time for that to change.  Until they find their way, there's also plenty of scoring to go around with two deep and genuinely talented teams on the ice.  It may be better for hockey if these two, for now, to let someone else drive for a bit.  They are capable of taking the keys at any time.
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