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Capitals, Penguins set to carry hostilities on to the ice

TSN.ca Staff

1/14/2009 1:58:39 PM

If recent events are any indication, it could be a very chippy affair when the Capitals and Penguins face off tonight at Mellon Arena.  The game will be the first meeting between the teams since Caps' forward Alex Semin ripped into superstar Sidney Crosby about two months ago.

"What's so special about Crosby?" Semin said in a lengthy tirade back in October.  "I don't see anything special there. Yes, he does skate well, has a good head, good pass. But there's nothing else. Even if you compare him to Patrick Kane from Chicago, (Kane) is a much more interesting player. The way he moves, his deking abilities, his thinking on the ice and his anticipation of the play is so superb."

Semin added that he thought the NHL hyped players based on points totals moreso pure skill and ability, and took thinly veiled jabs at the Pens' captain.

"I think that if you take any player, even if he is "dead wood," and start promoting him, you'll get a star," he told Yahoo! Sports. "Especially if he scores 100 points. No one is going to care about anyone else. No one is going to care whether he possesses great skill. Let's say you put someone in front of the net and let him deflect pucks in, and he scored 50 goals; everyone will say "Wow!" and then hand him a $10 million per year contract. That's what they like here."

There is certainly no love lost between the two teams, as the Semin/Crosby story isn't the only ongoing feud between the Capitals and Penguins.

Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin have recently developed a history of nastiness, and their less-than-friendly relations could boil over tonight.

While the two Russians were friends and roommates at the 2006 Olympic in Turin - and while both players occupied spots as the top two scorers in the NHL last season - their rivalry on the ice has taken a turn for the worse.

There are reports that Ovechkin threw a punch at Malkin's agent in a Russian nightclub - something Ovechkin has denied, though he does claim it is a "bad situation" between the two players. 

Otherwise, Ovechkin has been quick to downplay the idea that tonight's match-up is anything but a normal date on the team calendar.

"It's a rivalry for you, not for us," said Ovechkin.  "It's just a regular game."

The 23-year-old added he always played with a physical style and felt no reason to let up on Malkin just because he was a premier player in the league.

"I'm always getting big hits," Ovechkin said.  "If I have a chance to hit him, like, why not?"

TSN's James Cybulski asked Ovechkin about his personal relationship with Malkin.

"We're not friends but, you know, we still can talk to each other," he replied, dismissing the idea of a personal rivalry and adding, "It's just you guys.  You just say that.  Just the media."

Capitals' head coach Bruce Boudreau was also quick to put aside any notions of individual conflict, stressing the importance of tonight's game for both teams.

"Tonight it's Pittsburgh against Washington," Boudreau said.  "I don't think anybody should have any personal agendas going because I think both teams need the win too much."

"(Geno) wants to get the best of Ovechkin and vice versa," Capitals' forward Matt Cooke said.  "They're both very powerful guys and they're usually pretty big collisions."

Last season, Ovechkin was looking to lay a massive hit on fellow star Malkin, who ducked out of the way at the last second.

"Ovechkin is a great player, but every time he hits me, I don't know why," Malkin said.

Crosby remarked it was rare that one elite player would go after another.

"It's a different scenario because you usually don't see that," Crosby said of Ovechkin's attempted hit on Malkin. "Guys on our team have to make sure we stick together and Geno (Malkin) has to make sure he sticks up for himself."

"I mean, he's got run a couple of times," Crosby added "The (Oct. 16) game here, I think he made a few runs at Geno and Geno handled it the right way. Geno's focused on playing and he shouldn't get caught up with that."

The Caps are looking to avoid losing their fourth straight game, a mark that would give them their longest losing streak of the season.  This comes immediately after the streaky squad went on a season-high seven-game win streak.

The spiralling Pens, meanwhile, are looking to get consecutive wins for the first time since mid-November, when they won six in a row from November 1 to 15. 

Crosby has two goals and five assists during a four-game point streak. He has also been impressive in his career against the Capitals so far - Crosby has recorded seven goals and 14 assists in 12 career games against Semin's team. Ovechkin has six goals and nine assists in 12 career meetings with the Pens.

The Penguins and Capitals meetin again on February 22 and March 8.