Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bring On The Rookies

Capitals vs. Penguins Preview

There is a buzz around the NHL. Can you hear it? It involves the two new stars that the league wants to ride on the back of to the promise land: Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. The future of the NHL hits the ice to face off against one another. There certainly is a buzz.

It is a story of two different teams with outstanding rookies on each. And even if Sid the Kid (and AO for that point) is the new face of the league to come, the Penguins are not. While the Capitals have fresh names such as Brian Sutherby, Brooks Laich, Jakub Klepis, Mike Green, it is much different on the Penguins side. The Pens are a more veteran squad with 6 to 7 players that will move on or retire within 2 to 3 years.

The Penguins have 8,230 games played total experience compared to the Capitals games played experience at 5,959, which includes Andrew Cassels 999 games played (if he plays tonight he will have played 1000 NHL games in his career) and Jeff Friesen’s 784 games (Cassels and Friesen account for 30% for the entire Capitals team).

While the Penguins might survive games without Sid the Kid, the same is not true for the Capitals. Even though the two account for about 15% of their teams points, Ovechkin has more game winning goals and better individual talent that sparks his team.

Pittsburgh also have a leg up on the Capitals when it comes to talent. I don’t think anyone in this league would dispute the talents of Mario Lemieux, John LeClair, Zigmund Palffy and Mark Recchi. But when you look at the Caps, the only big name talents worth mentioning (besides AO) are sometimes deemed b-list players like Jeff Halpern, Brendan Witt, Jeff Friesen, Andrew Cassels and of course Olaf Kolzig. Ask any fantasy team manager which players he would want from those groups and the Penguins win hands down.

In a way Sid the Kid has some help, a system of talented players that helps the rookie have a guaranteed all-star year, while AO has to do it on his own. I think most would agree that both experiences for rookies Sid the Kid and AO have been lopsided.

But now there is a rift in the perfect horizon for the Capitals. The Russian super team Moscow Dynamo claims it had the rights for Ovechkin. The team does not seek to keep AO from playing in the NHL, they just want money. Go figure. But the case may prove to be a hindrance for the NHL if the Russian league comes calling for all of its players.

The story is compelling, the future looks bright and the suspense is palpable. It’s no wonder that fans of hockey, not just Caps and Pens fans, will crane their heads toward the League’s two top rookies as they face of for the first time this season. If nothing else, it will be exciting to watch the two try to one up each other.

Sid the Kid made it clear that it’s not about Sid vs. AO tonight. "It's going to be cool to have us both out there. It's not something I am going to turn into me against him, though," Crosby told AP.

If you wanted me to make some sort of prediction, I will tell you that on this night I cease to become a sharp critic of the Capitals and will be the fan that I know my team needs. You might say I am weaseling my way out of a prediction, but I don’t want to ruin the occasion, just let the two teams play.

Some will predict correctly, some won’t, but I would rather enjoy the moment of two good teams play the greatest sport there is, hockey.

By the way, Caps win 3-2. Go Caps!

Editor’s Note: Player profile links have changed from nhl.com to sports.yahoo.com. Yahoo keeps up to date stats and less commercial traffic on its site.

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