EDMONTON, Alberta – There’s just a different kind of energy in the air on the rare occasions when Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid share a sheet of ice.
Rogers Place was buzzing Wednesday when Crosby and McDavid, arguably the two greatest players of this century, went rush for rush late in the first period.
The crowd rose to its feet when McDavid cruised down the ice but couldn’t blow by Brian Dumoulin. Crosby, sensing an opportunity to one-up the kid who came for his throne, tried to dance between a pair of defenders at the other end.
“Loving to compete, the part that you enjoy about the game is the challenges every night. Obviously, he’s one of the biggest,” Crosby said of McDavid on Tuesday. “You play against guys like that, I think it brings out the best in everybody.”
It certainly brought the best out of McDavid. The reigning MVP had four points as his Edmonton Oilers beat the Penguins 5-2. It was Pittsburgh’s third straight loss.
Entering Wednesday, Crosby and the Penguins had beaten McDavid and the Oilers in all seven showdowns between the two superstars. Three years ago, Crosby stole the show in this building when he scored a sensational overtime winner.
“I think Sid has changed his game since he’s been in the league,” McDavid said after Edmonton’s morning skate. “He came in as a pass-first guy. Then he wanted to get better at faceoffs. Now look at him, he’s a great faceoff guy. He wanted to score more goals. He’s a 50-goal scorer and a Rocket Richard winner.”
McDavid, meanwhile, is still looking to break through in the postseason. But he has three scoring titles and has been awarded the Hart Trophy twice. Last season he was a unanimous selection. He was third in the NHL in points as of Tuesday.
“We don’t get a chance to see him very often. Maybe that’s a good thing from our standpoint,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “But he sure is exciting to watch.”
Wednesday was the first time since Dec. 20, 2019 that their two teams met.
The superstar centers were matched up for much of the night, starting with the opening faceoff won by Crosby. McDavid was on the ice for all five Oilers goals. Unfortunately, so was Crosby, who had one assist and a minus-4 rating.
McDavid picked up the primary assist on the game’s first goal, scored by Zach Hyman about seven minutes in. He bumped Jake Guentzel along the boards in the Oilers zone then poked the puck up to Hyman to start a 3-on-3 rush. Hyman did the rest, swerving right after crossing the blue line then beating Tristan Jarry.
The Penguins would tie it up later in the first period after Crosby cleanly won an offensive-zone faceoff against Leon Draisaitl. Off that set play, Guentzel opened up for a one-timer and John Marino put the puck on a tee for him. Guentzel ripped it past Mikko Koskinen to extend his NHL-best point streak to 11 games.
But the Oilers restored their lead 81 seconds later. McDavid and Hyman tore down the ice on a 2-on-1 and McDavid set his winger up for his second goal.
At that point the Oilers had two goals on just four shots against Jarry, the league’s hottest goalie heading into this game in Edmonton, his offseason home.
In his previous six starts, Jarry was 5-0-1 with a .983 save percentage and three shutouts. Monday in Calgary, he pretty much single-handedly secured one point in the standings for Pittsburgh by stopping 31 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss.
Wednesday, he gave up more than two goals for the first time since Nov. 14.
Teddy Blueger scored one minute into the second period to tie it up at 2-2. Evan Rodrigues fooled the Oilers with a shot fake then slipped a pass to Blueger.
But early in the third, Kailer Yamamoto made it 3-2 with a nifty deflection.
The penalty kill helped keep the Penguins in the game. They went 3-for-3.
Prior to Wednesday, the Penguins’ top-ranked penalty kill had killed 19 straight, that stingy stretch spanning eight games. Meanwhile, the Oilers entered the night with the NHL’s best power play, clicking at an unfathomable 37.7% rate.
“Obviously, McDavid is so dynamic. But they have so many weapons away from him that I think it’s difficult to key on one particular aspect of their power play,” Sullivan said before the game. “So it will be a big challenge. … It’s a big part of their offense. They’re averaging over a goal per game on their power play.”
But after another successful kill in the third period, McDavid gave Evan Bouchard a tap-in on another 2-on-1 rush. He added an empty-netter to put it away.
The Penguins will continue this four-game road trip Saturday in Vancouver.
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