Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are in town tonight at Verizon Center, so Alex Ovechkin stood in his team's dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex yesterday and fielded plenty of questions about the "rivalry" between the two phenoms.
Do you know who you are playing tomorrow?
"Uh ... probably Minnesota, no?"
Why does everyone ask about [you and Crosby] so much?
"Because they like us — we are cute and we have good smile."
Did you run into Crosby at any point this summer?
"Yeah, I call him every day," he said before rolling his eyes. "He's Crosby, I'm Ovechkin. I am here. He's over there. Why I have to call him in the summer and say, 'Hey, what's up buddy? What are you doing?' "
Ovechkin's smugness about the subject underscored the general theme from members of the Washington Capitals organization at practice yesterday. This will mark the ninth time Crosby and Ovechkin have faced each other and it is probably their ninth time answering some of the same questions.
The two teams are rivals, but they were long before the lockout wiped out a season and made the No. 1 overall picks in the 2004 and 2005 drafts rookies in the same season.
"We were past that after the second game that they played against each other," Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig said. "That's the media. They are two faces of the NHL, and that is what [the league] is trying to sell and when they play each other, they are the best players."
While the media may over exaggerate the existence of a rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin, their importance to the sport cannot be understated. When the NHL returned from the lockout, they were anointed the future of the league.
Two seasons and two weeks in, Crosby and Ovechkin are no longer the sport's future — they are the present. Ovechkin became the second rookie to score 50 goals and ran away with the Calder Trophy. Last season he became the first player in 55 years to be named to the NHL First All-Star Team in his first two years in the league. With improved talent around him, Ovechkin could win the Richard Trophy for most goals in a season.
Crosby was the youngest player to record a 100-point season and the youngest to 200. He became the youngest scoring champion in major North American professional sports history last year and collected both league MVP honors (the Hart and Pearson trophies).
Still, for these two players to develop some sort of relationship that can be deemed anything more than just a friendly rivalry, these meetings will have to consist of more than just comparing their individual hardware.
"When you think of the games they have played, they haven't really meant a lot," Penguins radio analyst Phil Bourque said. "Every game means a lot, but in the big scope of things it wasn't like they were battling for a playoff spot or anything like that. I think it would bring more attention to the games if they mattered in the standings."
The big payoff for those league officials and members of the media who envision some type of transcendent rivalry, a la Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, won't start until these two teams meet in the postseason.
The NHL has never had the best of luck in that regard. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux never faced each other in the playoffs. The league's postseason rivalries have always been team-based and there hasn't been a prominent one since the Colorado-Detroit battles of the mid-to-late 1990s.
But Crosby versus Ovechkin, with all of the other young stars on both teams, and the subplot of all the past postseason history between the two teams, would be exactly what people are looking for.
"It would be nice for the fans I am sure," ex-Caps and current Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "Two exciting players playing against each other — it would be a great series. When you have two players of that caliber, people are always going to talk about them.
"I don't think they think about it that much. They are both very competitive, but I think they both concentrate more about winning hockey games than playing against each other."