In the four days leading up to the 2007 NHL All-Star Game, the buzz surrounding first-time participants Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin was the major story of this event. The two budding superstars are rightly seen by most observers of the game as the future of the sport, so it was no surprise that this dynamic duo would receive the attention that was heaped upon them.
The fact that the two rivals would be paired together on a line with star veteran Brendan Shanahan had many thinking that fireworks would indeed be in store when the puck was dropped on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
The hype machine kicked into gear on Monday at a press conference featuring Crosby and Ovechkin. The two slipped into their roles as ambassadors of the game with ease, providing worthwhile quotes and a few laughs for the media. Ovechkin, in particular, seemed to relish the spotlight, providing humorous remarks to most questions asked of him.
On Tuesday, the two, along with the other All-Stars, received the red carpet treatment on their arrival at AAC for that night’s NHL SuperSkills comeptition. While Ovechkin had a quiet night, Crosby provided some hope that the hype for Wednesday’s main event would be reality, as he connected on two of three shots against Roberto Luongo in the One-on-One Shootout. Crosby’s handiwork sealed the win for the Eastern Conference.
On the night, Ovechkin picked up his goal on five shots while finishing with a -2 rating. Crosby, who was -4 in the game, was held pointless while putting three shots on the net.
Western Conference head coach Randy Carlyle admitted after the game that there was some strategy involved in shutting down the Crosby-Ovechkin duo.
"It was a little bit of a joke, but in reality we felt that (Yanic) Perreault, with his history of winning face-offs, usually starts with the puck", stated the winning coach. "If we start with the puck with that group of players, more often than not there’s more positives come out of it than negatives."
Crosby, the player to receive the most attention over the course of the week’s festivities, was disappointed with his lack of production.
"There was something like 21 goals scored, so it would have been nice to get one", laughed the Nova Scotia native. "I had a few chances, but it didn’t work out." When reminded that Wayne Gretzky, the player that Crosby has been compared to most often, failed to register a point in his own All-Star Game debut, Crosby seemed to take some solace in that fact. "Yeah, maybe I’ll sleep easier tonight".
Still, the NHL’s leading scorer was thankful for the opportunity to play with some of the game’s greats.
"You play against these guys, you batte with them", said the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ star forward. "Then you get to know them, they’re just people and they carry themselves with such class. They are great role models with everyone. I think it’s pretty proud for everyone to be here, but it’s part of the way people handle themselves, as well."
Both Crosby and Ovechkin felt that they were guilty of looking to pass the puck rather than shoot it, a fact duly noted by the pair’s veteran linemate.
"That’s usually what happens in your first All-Star Game", agreed Shanahan. "Most young guys come in here and they overpass…you gotta get comfortable coming down and shooting the puck. I think a lot of guys had some nerves tonight."
For his part, Ovechkin seemed unfazed by his line’s lack of production, instead focusing more on the overall experience.
"It was my dream to play in the NHL and be an NHL All-Star, so it was fun", said the Washington Capitals‘ star. "(I’ll remember) this atmosphere. Talking with Brodeur, Chara, different, great players. It’s amazing time."
When asked to explain what happened on his goal, in typical Ovechkin fashion, he smiled, shrugged his shoulders and stated, "Explain? I’m Ovechkin."
As much as both players were thrilled with the experience, they were also ready for the festivities to end and the regular season to resume.
"(All-Star Week) is a nice break", explained Crosby. "I think everyone tries to utilize it to get a second wind for the second half. Hopefully guys have done that and we’re able to come back just as fresh and finish strong."
Ovechkin was a little more direct in his desire to move on with the season.
"It’s good to be over today", Ovechkin said with a smile.