Jan 21, 2012, 3:25 PM EDT
There’s no way you can argue against Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin as two of the NHL’s biggest stars. But when the Russian countrymen face off against each other on Sunday afternoon (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC) it’ll be a tale of two guys who have seen their seasons go in different directions.
Alex Ovechkin: 46 GP – 19 goals, 17 assists – 2nd on Caps in points (Nicklas Backstrom)
Ovechkin and the Caps have had a disappointing season even though they sit atop the Southeast Division (tied with the Panthers in points, just three ahead of the Jets.) We’re used to seeing the Capitals turn things on and take over in the second half, but Ovechkin’s offensive struggles might make that difficult this time ’round.
Rather than helping his teammates raise their game, Ovechkin has slumped — especially with Backstrom out with a concussion. Normally he’s been on a line with Backstrom and Troy Brouwer but unlike Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, Ovechkin hasn’t been able to elevate his linemate’s games.
Ovechkin is on a pace to score less than 40 goals this season while the Caps struggle through trying to stay on top of their division. To say it’s been frustrating for the former two-time MVP this season would be an understatement.
Evgeni Malkin: 40 GP – 25 goals, 30 assists – 1st in NHL in points, t-3rd in goals
Simply put, Malkin has been a monster in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are missing both Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, yet haven’t missed a beat thanks to Malkin. He’s scoring tons of goals, setting up teammates for others, and looking like the guy who helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Where Malkin has done things different than Ovechkin is in how he’s developed chemistry with linemate James Neal. Neal and Malkin have become a dominant one-two punch as Neal has scored 24 goals and the pair has combined for 98 points, making them one of the top scoring duos in the league and a huge reason why the Penguins have won five in a row.
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