Cook: Three stars combine for one point; what gives here?

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You think Sidney Crosby is ultra competitive?

You have no idea.

Crosby was thrilled the Penguins made a little history yesterday, beating the Washington Capitals, 2-0, at Mellon Arena to win for the first time in his two remarkable seasons when he didn't have a point. They had been 0-30-1 in such games, an astonishing statistic if there ever was one.

But Sid the Kid also made it clear he likes the wins a whole lot more when he plays the starring role. "If I said I wanted us to win 10 games in a row without me getting a point, I'd be lying. I want to be there for the guys every night. I want to contribute."

That's not selfishness.

That's the necessary mind-set of the world's greatest hockey player.

That's the unshakable belief that he should be able to make something positive happen every time he skates onto the ice.

It's a feeling shared by Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who generally is regarded as the NHL's second-greatest player. That would explain why he was visibly upset and angry after the loss -- the Capitals' fifth in the six games he has played against Crosby and the Penguins in his two years in the NHL -- throwing his stick and kicking a door on his way to the locker room. He, too, was held scoreless, ending his league-high 13-game streak with at least a point. He didn't have a shot on goal until fewer than six minutes remained.

It's pretty safe to say Crosby and Ovechkin will play the rest of what should be long, fabulous careers and not go scoreless again in the same game.

"They have too much talent for that to happen," Penguins winger Mark Recchi said, shaking his head.

"I mean, Sid's going to be good 99 percent of the time, the best player on the ice ..."

If Ovechkin isn't.

That neither shined made for a really dull game, at least in comparison to the Penguins' emotional 5-4 shootout win against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night, three hours of high drama that will be reprised when the teams meet again this afternoon in Montreal.

"Pretty ugly," Crosby concurred.

Penguins rookie Evgeni Malkin -- the third-brightest star in the game -- also nearly was shut out, adding to the surreal afternoon. He picked up a cheap assist on Jordan Staal's empty-net goal with 37.3 seconds left.

The game would have been a lot more boring for yet another sellout crowd at the old building if not for brilliant goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, a goal from little-used winger Ronald Petrovicky and superb penalty-killing led by forward Ryan Malone. All of it added up to the Penguins' sixth consecutive win, their longest winning streak in five years.

"We probably didn't play as well as we could have, but, at the same time, we found a way to win," Crosby said. "It's all about getting wins right now. We have to get every point we can."

That's true from a provincial point of view, but this kind of game isn't what they want to see at NHL headquarters. Crosby and Ovechkin are the marquee attractions of a league that's fighting a tough battle to get America to notice it. It needs the two to be stars every game.

Crosby doesn't disappoint much, of course. He leads the NHL with 82 points and is the primary reason the surprising Penguins are looking more and more like a playoff team.

Nor does Ovechkin fail often. In addition to his points streak, he went into yesterday as the league's top goal-scorer with 33 and its No. 2 overall scorer with 70 points.

"Maybe this game proves something," Crosby said. "It's team against team. It's not all about us."

Most of it is, though.

Said Crosby moments later, no doubt speaking for Ovechkin as well as himself, "This is not something you want to make a habit of."

No, the kid didn't get a point in the game.

But he sure made one afterward.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.


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