The rivalry between Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins needs no introduction. Yet, at Verizon Center Wednesday, two important figures will be reintroduced when Sidney Crosby and Dale Hunter reacclimate themselves with arguably the NHL's premiere rivalry.
Crosby returned to action November 21 after a nine-month long recovery from a concussion. He has two goals and nine assists in only five games, while the Penguins are 3-1-1 in those five games. Two collisions - one with former Cap David Steckel at the end of the second period of January's Winter Classic and another from the Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman in the subsequent game - knocked Crosby out for the rest of the regular season and postseason. Wednesday will be Crosby's first game at Verizon Center since December 2010.
Meanwhile, Hunter was a part of the rivalry himself as a player and he actually coached against Crosby in juniors while with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights. Even then, Hunter knew how special Crosby was.
"We had to put a checking line against him and pay special attention - he still scored points and goals -- we limited him, anyways," Hunter said after Wednesday's practice. "He was so strong on his skates at that age, too. He was 17 and to dominate junior like he did and play against, we had an older team, they were 19-year-old kids, and right away you knew you had a special player."
"He's the type of guy that you've got to give special attention to, just like [Alex Ovechkin] does too," he continued. "We've got to be aware of him at all times on the ice."
Speaking of Ovechkin, he addressed the return of his foil.
"It's gonna be good battle," he said. "He's come back, I think everybody's excited. He missed almost a year. It's kind of hard to come back, but he's a great player."
Hunter will start with a clean state against the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins (14-7-4). In Boudreau's final 13 regular season games against Pittsburgh, Washington went 11-0-2. The two teams have met once this season; Dennis Wideman's overtime goal gave Washington a 3-2 win over the Penguins October 13.
There will be plenty of intriguing plot lines Wednesday, including the fate of Arron Asham, who knocked out Jay Beagle during a fight the two had in the teams' last game. Beagle has yet to return from a concussion suffered in that fight.