Which player will ultimately have the better season: Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?
Emily Kaplan: All signs pointed to Alex Ovechkin experiencing a decline. His ice time was shaved to a career-low average of 18:22 last season, which led to one of his lowest career totals for shots (313). He was demoted to the third line by the playoffs (while battling injuries), and management had hinted the 32-year-old needed to change with the times. (As GM Brian MacLellan said in May: Ovechkin is “going to need to think of ways he can evolve into a player that still has a major impact on the game.”) So consider me surprised when Ovechkin shows up this season, with disregard to all of that, looking like it’s 2015 all over again, leading the league in goal-scoring with eight in four games. The question, to me, now becomes: can Ovechkin maintain this pace? Sure, he looks fabulous in October, but what about when we’re slogging through January? He’s more of a boom-or-bust guy while Sidney Crosby, as long as he’s healthy, is consistent. In the end, I think Crosby has the better cast around him and he’s a safer bet. But let Ovechkin make me feel dumb and score 20 hat tricks this season. At this point, nothing would surprise me with him.
Chris Peters: Ovechkin’s goal-scoring pace to start the season has been incredible, but the most important thing we’re seeing out of him is how many pucks he’s getting on net. His 3.82 shots on goal per game last season was the lowest rate of his career and resulted in his second-lowest goals total over a full season. He has averaged 6.25 shots per game in 2017-18. It is unlikely he’ll keep up that pace and he’s certainly not going to score on 32 percent of his shots all season, but it appears that Ovi is back to his old self. That said, even Ovechkin’s old self has been outscored in points by Crosby over each of the last five seasons. Although the Capitals captain has more goals over that same span and is likely to have more this season, we’ve seen a fair amount more fluctuation in Ovechkin’s game than we have Crosby’s, which is why I’d lean toward the latter having the better overall season. Despite Pittsburgh’s rocky start in its first two games, Crosby now has six points. So he’s pretty much picking right up where he left off after winning the Conn Smythe and a second straight Stanley Cup last season. As much as I love the Sid vs. Ovi debate we’ve been having for over a decade now, I’m just glad we’ve got two of the game’s brightest stars playing at an extremely high level to start the year. It makes the Washington-Pittsburgh rivalry that much better.
Ben Arledge: I think the answer to this question depends on how we define “the better season.” Ovechkin is probably going to outscore Crosby. I mean, he’s scoring at a 2.0 goals per game pace through four games, and he has seven seasons in which he has scored at least 0.6 goals per game. It might sound crazy, but 60-65 isn’t out of the question for him this season, a mark he hasn’t reached in 10 years and has been reached once since (Steven Stamkos, 60 goals in 2011-12). It has been incredible to see Ovechkin’s production through the Capitals’ opening four games, and I think he will outscore Crosby and post a better statistical season. However, Crosby is still the better all-around player, and if you look at the season as a whole, he will have a bigger impact on his team’s success. Despite Ovi’s eight goals, he hasn’t registered a single assist. Crosby has five already and simply makes his linemates better, similar to what we have seen Connor McDavid do with the Edmonton Oilers. Oh, and Crosby is no scoring slouch, either. He scored 44 last season, and could break the 35-goal mark again this season. It will just come down to whether he can stay healthy.