Series (Game 1 of 4)

Pittsburgh leads 3-1

Game 1: Tuesday, November 22nd
Game 2: Wednesday, January 25th
Game 3: Saturday, February 11th
Game 4: Wednesday, March 8th

Capitals 4

(8-13-0, 16 pts)

Penguins 5

(7-9-6, 20 pts)

7:30 PM ET, November 22, 2005

Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1 2 3 T
WSH 0 2 24
PIT 4 1 05

S. Crosby (Penguins - C): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

Z. Palffy (Penguins - RW): Goals: 2, Assists: 1

A. Ovechkin (Capitals - LW): Goals: 0, Assists: 1

Washington (8-12-0) at Pittsburgh (6-9-6) 7:30 pm EST

Washington (8-12-0) at Pittsburgh (6-9-6) 7:30 pm ET

PITTSBURGH ( news services) -- When they meet tonight for the first time in what could be the new NHL's version of Gretzky vs. Lemieux, Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh and Alexander Ovechkin of Washington won't be thinking about ushering in a new era that emphasizes playmaking and goal-scoring, not trapping and goal-stopping.

"We have a lot to prove before we can put ourselves at that level," Crosby said. "I can understand that maybe some people are excited but to draw that comparison I don't think that's proper."

Pittsburgh coach Ed Olczyk also suggested it might be a bit premature to lump the two rookies in with the two greatest players ever to have played the game.

"Probably just a few games too early," Olczyk said with a grin.

When asked if there was the same kind of hype when he first played against Wayne Gretzky back in 1984, Mario Lemieux laughed. "No conference call, no," he said.

So far, neither Ovechkin nor Crosby is threatening to win the scoring title as a rookie, but each is having exactly the kind of season envisioned for them.

Crosby leads all rookies in assists (15) and points (25). With 10 goals, he could threaten Pittsburgh's rookie record (43) set by teammate and part-owner Lemieux in 1984-1985. Ovechkin would have been the overwhelming favorite to win the Calder Trophy if last season was not canceled because of the lockout. The 20-year-old Russian leads all rookies in goals (15) and trails Crosby in points by four.

Lemieux was likewise excited about the clash.

"I think it's great for the game. Any time you get two young guys like that going at it early in their career, they've both had a pretty good start in their careers so it should be an exciting night for all of us involved," said Lemieux, who had praise for Ovechkin. "Some of the goals he's scoring, it's quite amazing."

Crosby said he glances occasionally at the NHL statistics to see who is doing what, but necessarily to gauge how he is doing compared to Ovechkin.

"It's not something I follow religiously or anything,'' he said. "You play 82 games and you let other people decide that, but that's not something on my mind at all. I have to do my best ... I'm improving and contributing here, so I don't think that's something I really worry about."

Many around the NHL are closely following them, no doubt hoping these two No. 1 draft picks -- Ovechkin in 2004, Crosby this year -- become the signature stars they very much appear to be. As Capitals owner Ted Leonsis pointed out, the NBA reinvented itself a quarter-century ago when young stars named Magic Johnson and Larry Bird freshened up a tiring league whose championship games had been relegated to tape-delay TV.

The league must go a long way back to find a parallel matchup of young stars -- to Nov. 6, 1984, the first Gretzky vs. Lemieux contest. Gretzky scored the game-tying goal in the third period and had six shots in a 3-3 tie between Edmonton and Pittsburgh, while the Penguins' Lemieux didn't get a single shot but had an assist.

"I was very excited to play against him," Lemieux said of The Great One. "I grew up watching him and trying to emulate him on the ice. It was very exciting for me the first time I played against Gretzky, like the first time I played against Guy Lafleur. But these two guys are pretty much the same age so it's a little different in that regard."

However, while Lemieux was the rookie, Gretzky was already in his seventh full season in the WHA or NHL, though he would not turn 24 for another two months. Gretzky was in his 30s when Lemieux hit his prime by leading the Penguins to successive Stanley Cups in 1991-92.

By contrast, Crosby and Ovechkin are only two years apart, so their careers will usually be at comparable points. Even if it's not those two who are comparing themselves.

"I don't compare me and Sidney because I think we are different players,'' Ovechkin said. "He's a great passer, like Gretzky, and sees the ice real well. ... My job is to score goals.''

Unlike those Gretzky-Lemieux games, Ovechkin vs. Crosby should be more than a once- or twice-a-year attraction. The teams play three more times this season, with the next game coming Jan. 25 in Pittsburgh.

The two have met before, most recently in the world junior championships in North Dakota last winter. Crosby-led Canada beat Ovechkin-led Russia 6-1 in the final, with Ovechkin finishing the tournament with 11 points (7 goals) to Crosby's nine points (five goals). NHL writer Scott Burnside contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was also used.