As we approach the Olympic break, hockey fans around the country are starting to ask, “Who should get the Calder this year?” Two words: Sidney Crosby.
Clearly, this was no secret in the NHL world. For years, the teenage Crosby has shown glimmers of superstar status with earth-shattering stats, including the 106 goals he scored as a 14-year-old against a league of 18-year-olds in Nova Scotia.
Fast forward to 2004-05 and remember that Crosby not only took his QMJHL team—the Rimouski Oceanic—to the Memorial Cup finals, but also brought home gold at the World Junior Championships.
These achievements set the stage for him to be the number one overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft, and he was regarded as the saviour of the dire Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Penguins in severe financial trouble and owner Mario Lemieux looking for ways to save his franchise, Crosby was the perfect match for this despairing hockey team.
Fast forward again to Oct. 5, when the puck dropped in New Jersey for Crosby’s first NHL game. Even though his team lost 5-1, Crosby immediately made an impact by assisting on his team’s only goal. This was just the beginning, as Crosby went on to get a point in each of the Penguins’ first six games of the season, including a three-point performance in only his third NHL game. Crosby thus came in with a bang and proved to the NHL that Sid the Kid was ready to compete with the big boys.
His talent is easily translated into stats. Crosby has played in all of Pittsburgh’s 49 games, banking 23 goals and 31 assists for 54 points thus far. He’s on pace for 38 goals, 52 assists and 90 points. It’s mind-boggling that he’s only 18.
Even more impressive are the stats he has compiled despite the adverse circumstances he’s had to face over the season. The Penguins, considered at the start of the season to be somewhat decent with off-season veteran signings in Sergei Gonchar, Mark Recchi and John LeClair, instead are floundering in the basement of the NHL with 11 wins. Marc-Andre Fleury has yet to live up to his hype, with only five wins as the Pens’ goalie. And then there’s a player you may have heard of, Mario Lemieux, who had to sit out Dec.16 because of an atrial fibrillation that eventually forced him to retire only a couple of days ago.
Despite all this, Sidney is number one on his team in all offensive categories and in the top 20 in the league in goals and points.
Not too shabby for an 18-year-old rookie on a last-place team.
At the halfway point of the season, there is absolutely no question that 20-year-old Russian phenom Alexander Ovechkin is out-duelling his rookie counterpart, Sidney Crosby. If this continues, Ovechkin will be the surefire Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year come the end of the season.
On paper, Ovechkin currently leads with 33 goals, a whopping 10 more than the Penguins’ alternate captain. He has a total of 62 points in 47 games, while Crosby is slipping in the race, now up to only 54. In fact, Crosby hasn’t had an even-strength point in over three weeks, the last one on Jan. 3 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Fans can say all they want about the 18-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., and sure, I’ll be the first to admit that he’s a future star and one of the fastest, most vibrant players in the game today. But the fact remains that right now, Ovechkin is dominating the little one.
While both players are under immense pressure with daily scrutiny and game-by-game analysis, Ovechkin is the one with moves on moves, playing both ends of the ice, night in, night out.
With his rocket of a slap shot and quick-moving feet, he reminds me of a young Pavel Bure—“the Russian Rocket”—back in his Vancouver prime a decade ago. Ovechkin, often caught dancing down the left side, pulling the puck to his forehand just in time to go far side top corner, is a real threat and a true one-man show.
Ovechkin has also racked up his point streak comparatively unsupported. The second-highest point-getter on the Capitals is Dainius Zubrus, with a measly 25, including only 11 goals. Crosby, on the other hand, has had the likes of Lemieux (22 points), Recchi (38 points), and Palffy (42 points) on his wings, either on the same line or at some point on the power play.
For those supporters who say that this is evidence of Crosby’s natural playmaking ability, let me add that despite the aforementioned scorers and Ovechkin’s lack thereof, Crosby has only two more assists than the Moscow native.
What Crosby does lead in, and what is no surprise to those who follow his on-ice antics, is a team-high 74 penalty minutes, which would be enough to finish second on the Caps. He certainly outdoes Ovechkin’s solid 30 total minutes in the sin bin.
So what’s there to conclude? While yes, both players have certainly found a new home with prospering careers in the NHL, Ovechkin’s solid offensive play makes him the clear-cut leader in the Calder race.
While Darius, err … Sidney is great, Alexander is simply, how should I say it, … greater.
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