Imagine: Malkin and Crosby in Russia

"Sidney Crosby with a burst of speed now. He gains the zone and dishes the puck to Evgeni Malkin. Malkin makes a great move to fool the defense and he's in all alone. Malkin shoots…. and scores! The game-winner in overtime by Evgeni Malkin!"

Malkin and Crosby have been on a tear recently, racking up points and making opposing teams look foolish. Their team has won the last five-straight and the rest of the league is on watch that these two men are gunning for a championship. Fans of the team, watching at home from a town that was once known more for its steel works than its hockey, feel blessed to watch two great performers each night.

Fans of the opposition can't say the same however.


"They're both great players but, come on, it's obvious that the league wants them to win," says KovalchukFan4Ever on a popular league message board. "The refs so so biased in their favor."

While this is a common fan gripe, it isn't the only complaint that the duo has heard recently. While both Malkin and Crosby are outstanding players and among the league's leading scorers, the team's captain is in danger of being overshadowed by his alternate captain – at least in the eyes of some fans.

"They call him the best player in the world, but I don't even think he's the best player on his team," writes HockeyAndBeer32 on the same message board.

"If they were both from this country, they'd both be treated the same way, but since one is a foreigner, he doesn't get the respect he deserves."

And that isn't just a sentiment heard on message boards. National television commentators have started making similar statements. The debate over whether Crosby or Malkin is the true leader of this team is a hot discussion these days.

Last week, during the team's nationally televised win over rival Alex Ovechkin's squad, Malkin picked up three assists while Crosby had four-points, including the game-winning goal. That caused network broadcasters to speculate about which player was actually the team's star and speculate on strife between the two superstars.

"He's so talented but, at the same time, he's such an enigmatic player. That must be frustrating for coaches. And when you factor with the language barrier in, he's probably a pretty tough guy to coach," said one host.

"I think we should talk about what he does on the ice, not whether or not he speaks the language or how often he gives interviews. Both men are great players and it doesn't make sense to pit them against one another. They're on the same team," responded another.

"That's true and he may be scoring more goals right now, but I still have to question his leadership. He's so quiet in the locker room. He doesn't talk to the media. He keeps to himself. And that's all because he doesn't speak the language. You have to wonder if his teammates can respect him since he's so quiet," came the reply.

Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby seem more focused about what's happening on the ice though.

During a league-sponsored autograph session, Evgeni Malkin said that "winning is all that matters" and that "he just wants to compete for a championship."

Malkin has a busy life. As the face of the league and the team's captain, he typically attends several league events each week. His face is all over television. He represents some of the country's biggest brands and he still finds time to do charity work and give interviews whenever he's asked. He carries the burden of being the KHL's meal ticket quite well.

Crosby, on the other hand, shies away from the spotlight. He'd rather let his on-ice work do the talking. Last week, after a game in which he scored the overtime winner, he only gave a brief interview with one reporter before shutting down for the night. Without the aid of his translator, he simply said "I score goal and team win. I happy" before turning away from the cameras. As usual, Malkin sat with reporters for several more minutes, discussing all aspects of the game. Malkin has been described by one reporter as a "media darling" and "an obvious choice to be the face of the franchise and the league." 

The fact that Malkin receives so much coverage is starting to upset some people however.

"Malkin's a great player, but there are so many other great players in this league too" wrote FiveHole69 in the comments of a popular hockey blog. "Whenever I turn on the TV or visit the KHL website I just see Malkin, Malkin, Malkin. He's not the only player in the league guys!"

Malkin has learned to deal with the spotlight while some feel that Crosby can't handle the media attention. But that isn't the only knock on Crosby. Some feel that his game is lacking in a few serious ways. Crosby has been critized by several major hockey commentators recently.

"That kid Crosby, he's just lazy sometimes," said Don Cherov during his popular weekly segment on Hockey Evening in Russia.

"He's a great player, no doubt, but it doesn't always look like he cares. That kid, he just doesn't always give 100 percent," said the former coach turned broadcaster. "That's just like Canadians though. They don't love the game as much as our good Russian kids do. That's why Malkin will always be a better player to me. He's a leader. You can hear him on the bench, instructing his teammates, helping out all the time. What a guy that Malkin! Good Russian kid!"

A similar sentiment was stated by local Magnitogorsk radio personality Makar Maddenski during a recent show.

"Crosby is very good, but I still see some of the same flaws. Too much stickhandling. Not enough shooting. The occasional petulance," he said.

"Crosby is just not a consistently dominant player. When does that guy show up? That’s all I want to know."

Despite the comments made by some fans and members of the media, it appears that all is well in Magnitogorsk right now. Malkin and Crosby are both hot. Metallurg is on a winning streak and the a team championship could be in the future. However, you have to wonder how long the questions about Malkin and Crosby's play will continue.