Finally -- the schedule's first real circle-the-date-game.
A scene setter for next month's Olympics, too.
|Alex Ovechkin has more hardware, but Sidney Crosby has his name etched on the Stanley Cup. (Getty Images)|
As captains, that is.
That should add a little something, don't you think?
Crosby and Ovechkin are the league's biggest stars and biggest rivals, and they have been that way since arriving at the same time after the lockout. For his part, Ovechkin has won the rookie award, a couple of MVPs and a scoring title for Washington, while Crosby has a scoring title and a MVP award as well in Pittsburgh. But Crosby has his name is on the most important piece of hardware -- the Stanley Cup.
He's been recognized as the Penguins leader since 2007, while Ovechkin has only been a de-facto one until he was named captain only a few weeks ago. Having it made official hasn't been lost though on Ovechkin. He has gone on a tear for the high-flying Caps and was named player of the week Monday. Washington, meanwhile, has the league's leading offense and is running away with the Southeast Division while jostling for overall conference lead.
Things haven't been quite as good for the Penguins, who have been in a noticeable funk since the Christmas break. Pittsburgh is losing a lot more often lately but remains in striking distance of a top-three seed largely because of the season Crosby is having. The Penguins captain has become as much a finisher as a playmaker, scoring twice as many goals as any of his teammates so far. And this week he'll go up against Ovechkin running neck-and-neck in goal totals and on pace for the first 50-goal season of his career.
And then there's the backdrop of Vancouver in a few more weeks. Many expect the gold medal game there will be between Crosby's Canadians and Ovechkin's Russians. That alone makes this coming attraction worth watching.
News: Flyers captain gets into spat with local beat writers
Views: A wise man once said it never pays to argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Too bad Philadelphia's Mike Richards didn't realize the principle applies to him as well. It doesn't matter if he is among those who no longer read newspapers because Richards just didn't come out looking very good after pushing back against local media's questions about comments he made. This is the latest chapter in the ongoing friction between the 24-year-old Flyers captain and those who cover the team on a regular basis. Apparently Richards is frustrated at media references to the Flyers off-ice party habits, which have been documented in various photos circulating widely online. Still, Richards told the Hockey News in a current story that Philadelphia's media "makes stuff up," and then got testy when asked to offer up examples. It was obviously a poor way of handling a situation by a team captain, and Richards has been duly lectured by the media and others about pettiness since it happened. But that misses the point because Richards is young and still growing into his role, while the real culprit is getting off the hook. That would be Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. He opened the door to all this by admitting concern about his team enjoying night life too much after last season. The subject would not have been part of the conversation otherwise and someone in his position should know that.
News: Popular hockey studio host refuses to apologize to player
Views: Ron MacLean is nearly as big an icon in Canada as his Hockey Night in Canada broadcast partner Don Cherry, and he inserted himself into the controversy surrounding a Vancouver Canucks player and the referee he publicly accused of having a vendetta. MacLean, an amateur referee in his spare time, did a segment on the incident involving Alex Burrows and referee Stephane Auger on last Saturday's broadcast. The problem was MacLean framed it to support his contention that the official's denial was far more credible than the player's charges. MacLean's piece used footage of a previous situation involving Burrows and Auger, and he used it to tell viewers that it looked like the player was saying things to teammates that proved he was embellishing a problem. By the end of the night Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was demanding an apology for his player, but MacLean has steadfastly refused. No doubt he is entitled to his opinion, but if a host is going to engage in a form of character assassination on the most widely watched hockey show on television, he should back it up.
News: Junior player suspended indefinitely for vicious head shot
Views: Patrick Roy wants the attacker to be banned from junior hockey for life, which seems like a funny request coming from someone who coached a son who perpetrated a similarly ugly act not long ago. Roy's son Frederick got off with a 15-game suspension. Still, dad's message about the cheap shot Patrice Cormier delivered against one of his Quebec Remparts players should not be lost in the apparent hypocrisy. The sight of 18-year-old defenseman Mikael Tam convulsing on the ice after taking Cormier's elbow to the head was sickening, even if the collision was similar to many that have been seen this season at the professional and junior levels. And it underscores how dangerous a problem head shots have become in hockey. At the junior level, administrators have been taking tougher stands with respect to these kinds of incidents in recent years. The Ontario league has suspended a player for the rest of this season and, for the time being, the Quebec junior league has suspended Cormier indefinitely. Meanwhile, the NHL has in the past given lip service to dealing with head shots, which only serves to encourage youngsters who think that helps them get to the NHL. The leagues' GMs are supposed to make some recommendations when they meet in March, and will have the support of some hard-liners who have been softening their stance on punishment in light of all the head injuries being suffered. Good thing, because this is no longer a debate about protecting the physical aspect of the game, it's about protecting the players.
News: Humiliating Calgary losing streak reaches five
Views: It's one thing to slump during the dog days of a long season, but the Flames have real reason to be concerned right now. Especially with what could be a season-defining game on tap at home this week against the mighty Chicago Blackhawks. Calgary needs to make a statement in that one or it could be all over. And it won't be easy against the explosive Western Conference leaders. Calgary's offense hasn't been great all season, but the Flames have enough to stick around the top of the Northwest Division because of the defense around goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. But Calgary is a physical team, which is a tough way to play over 82 games and it may be catching up at a crucial point. The Flames have scored more than two goals only once in the losing streak, and in that one they blew a big lead in the third period. But there was no response the following night when the Flames were chomped on by the Sharks in a 9-1 blowout. That's not a good sign for a team that is losing standings ground and may not have the overall talent it thinks it has. How the Flames handle the homecoming from a long road trip could set the tone for the rest of their season.