Growing up in Philadelphia, Eric Tangradi was never fortunate enough to play pond hockey as kid, mainly because the weather never got cold enough for an extended period of time to make outdoor hockey possible. When I talked to him after the WBS Penguins practice on Monday he had this to say about this year's Winter Classic featuring Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin:
"I think its great for the game of hockey. It's some of the best players in the world going at it, at a big venue and I think stuff like that really opens up the game of hockey to a lot of people's eyes in the United States. If the game's going to grow, there's going to need to be events like that."
Tim Wallace, on the other hand, has played a lot of outdoor hockey growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, where I bet it gets more than cold enough for lakes and ponds to freeze for hockey. Here's what he told me when I asked him the same question:
"I think it is great for hockey and this idea of playing outside is great. I have played a lot outside for fun but nothing serious. Hopefully it is a great game and the fans really enjoy the spectacle."
This year marks the 4th Annual Winter Classic and the league couldn't have picked a better matchup. It's Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, two of the games best players head-to-head in a much anticipated regular season game that almost has the feel of a playoff game for fans of both teams.
After the jump, a look at the classic Crosby vs. Ovechkin debate as to who the better player might be. It almost seems like a question of personal preference, much like Pepsi or Coca-Cola.
Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby: The Basics
Alexander Ovechkin was the first overall draft choice by the Washington Capitals in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The Pittsburgh Penguins made Sidney Crosby their number one selection the following year (2005). Neither NHL franchise could have imagined the impact that these two players would bring to their teams in such a short amount of time.
On November 22nd, 2005, Crosby and Ovechkin would compete against each other in the NHL for the first time. Crosby got the better of Ovechkin and the Capitals, posting a goal and an assist in the Penguins 5-4 win.
The two top-tier NHL stars would meet again 25 more times and the Penguins all-time have the series lead 15-10-1 when both Crosby and Ovechkin are on the ice for a game between the two teams, including the 4-3 series win in the playoffs back in May 2009. Crosby has 21 goals and 26 assists in the 26 games both he and Ovechkin played in, while Ovechkin has 23 goals and 18 assists in those same 26 contests.
Both players have been essential to their team's success but which player is more valuable?
Ovechkin is a goal scoring machine who has registered no less than 46 goals every season since he came into the league, including a career-high 65 goals in the 2007-08 campaign. He loves to shoot the puck and is usually at the top of the league in shots.
Crosby, on the other hand, only recently began firing more rubber on net while racking up multitudes of assists while in the NHL, an impressive 323 assists in 371 games coming into this season. Both players have had over 100 points in four of their first five seasons in the NHL.
Crosby vs. Ovechkin (2010)
A look at the stats so far this season is actually a bit surprising with the light shed on the epic debate of better NHL player. In 39 games this season, Ovechkin has only 14 goals while adding 28 assists, good for 42 points and more than a point per game which is great but not the Ovechkin hockey fans around the world have come to know.
Sidney Crosby, however, has caught fire recently and his 23 game point streak really separated him from the rest of the pack. He registered at least one point in every game from Nov. 5th's 3-2 loss to Anaheim Ducks until their most recent game against the New York Islanders. In 39 games this season Crosby has 32 goals, the most in the league, and 33 assists. His 65 points are good for the overall scoring lead over Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Until December 6th, Ovechkin and the Capitals had the best record in the league. But an eight game losing streak paired with Crosby's and the Penguins recent hot streak changed that and the Pens have overtaken the Capitals as the Eastern Conference leader. The Pens will take the league's best record, 25-11-3, into the January 1st Winter Classic, while the Capitals also bring an impressive record, 22-12-5, good for 5th in the conference.
These two teams have made a lot of noise in recent years after the addition of Crosby and Ovechkin. Most hockey fans circled New Year's Day on their calendar when the NHL announced that Pittsburgh would be hosting the 4th Annual Winter Classic Outdoor Game at Heinz Field, home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, against Ovechkin and the Capitals.
With both teams at the top of their game and only a few points separating the two teams, expect the outdoor game in Pittsburgh to add another chapter in the Crosby vs. Ovechkin debacle. No matter the outcome of the New Year's Day game both Crosby and Ovechkin are gifted athletes with a similar goal in mind, winning tomorrow's game and ultimately raising the Stanley Cup at season's end.