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Penguins Finally Get Stare-Down With Red-Hot Ovechkin

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At least, the Pittsburgh Penguins won’t be the victims, the ones to watch Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin reach 700 career goals when the teams play in an NBC game Sunday afternoon.

Right?

Ovechkin needs five goals to reach that plateau. That won’t happen in one game.

Right?

Well, probably not. But it’s hard to rule much out when it comes to Ovechkin and scoring.

“He’s the best goal scorer I’ve ever seen,” Penguins veteran defenseman Jack Johnson said after practice Saturday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “Definitely the best goal scorer of our generation.”

That’s no slight to Johnson’s captain and long-time friend, Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who has been likened to and put on a pedestal beside Ovechkin since they both entered the league in 2005-06.

Ovechkin on Saturday was named the NHL’s first star for January, when he led the NHL with 13 goals. He has 11 goals over his past five games and Friday, in a 5-3 win against Ottawa, his two goals moved him past Mark Messier and into eighth place all-time on the league goals list with 695.

The classic move by Ovechkin, a hulk of a man, is a blazing one-timer from the left circle.

“Nothing’s changed since he came into the league as far as the way he shoots the puck and has the ability to score goals,” Crosby said. “He’s done it consistently since entering the league. I think he’s probably found different ways. His shot, obviously, on that off wing, that one-timer, that shot from that area is probably what he’s known for, but he scores so many different ways, whether its off the rush or getting in front of the net sometimes. He’s found different ways to score, even with how dangerous his shot is in different areas.”

Sid vs. Ovi

Crosby and Ovechkin have gathered a lot of hardware over the years, although for years one of the main things that separated them was the fact that Crosby had three Stanley Cups. Ovechkin finally got his first when the Capitals won in 2018.

Crosby and Ovechkin have at times had a prickly relationship on the ice. There have been intense games in the regular season, not to mention the playoffs.

And yet Crosby had a hard time defining where they stand now after well over a decade as rivals and fellow superstars.

“We see each other a lot as far as games, being in the same division, playoffs and that kind of thing,” Crosby said. “I don’t really know how to answer that. It’s not something that’s really changed a whole lot.

“It’s cordial and respectful. We’re not best buddies, but at the same time I respect the way he plays and what he’s doing and can relate to the pressure and expectations that come with the position he was in coming into the league. That’s probably the best way I can describe it.”

The next chapter comes Sunday.

Ovechkin and the charts

Ovechkin, 34, has gotten his goals in 1,135 games. He has been awfully durable, playing at least 72 games in every season that wasn’t shortened by a work stoppage and appearing in all 82 games four times. He has missed two games dating to the start of 2016-17.

He has scored at least 50 goals eight times and had 65 in 2007-08.

Crosby, 32, has a more all-around game. He has 455 goals in 966 games. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, 33, has 407 goals in 892 games. Malkin and Ovechkin, both Russian, have had an up-and-down relationship over the years.

While all three seem to have a spot carved out for them in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Ovechkin is the one who will be defined by his propensity to score.

“The things he’s done is pretty remarkable in this day and age,” said Penguins winger Bryan Rust, who has blossomed into a prolific scorer, with a team-leading 22 goals in 37 games over an injury-shortened season.

“He’s a guy who’s consistently been top five in the league, if not higher, in goals every year. I think that’s a testament to him and how good of a player he is.”

It’s a matter of conjecture just how high Ovechkin might be able to climb the NHL’s all-time goals list, but it’s realistic to think he’s going to move up several notches.

The seven ahead of him are: Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (841), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708).

Rust and Johnson both compared Ovechkin to Hull.

“He’s the guy I grew up watching,” Johnson said. “Guy who’s similar – the shot and pure goal scorer.”

“Ovi’s got maybe a little bit more complete game,” Rust said. “He’s a little bit more physical on the forecheck, uses his body a little bit more.”

Game Has Meaning

This is the first meeting of the season between the Metropolitan Division rivals, and with three more after that, the points earned or lost in those games could be critical to the way the standings look at the end of the regular season.

Washington, which has won eight of its past 11 games, leads the NHL with 75 points – six points ahead of the Penguins, who are second behind the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division, third in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the overall league standings. The Penguins have a game in hand.

“They’re always intense games, emotional games and important points,” Crosby said.

Containing Ovechkin will be part of the task Sunday. That includes contesting those booming shots.

For defensemen, getting in front of those is not for the timid.

“It’s not fun. By any means,” Johnson said of blocking Ovechkin shots. “It’s not a fun job, but you’ve got to suck it up and you’ve got to do it.”

Penguins rookie defenseman John Marino will be facing Washington and Ovechkin for the first time. He leads the Penguins with 68 blocked shots.

“I don’t think anyone’s looking forward to (blocking his shots), but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to help the team win,” Marino said. “You want to be as smart about it as possible.”

 

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Shelly is the newest columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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