As superstars align, Oilers, Pens focus on improvement (Oct 24, 2017)

PITTSBURGH — A game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers can be circled on the calendar well in advance for the matchup between stars Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

Perhaps it will play out that the centers who are widely considered the top two players in the world — Crosby, 30, who has captained Pittsburgh to three Stanley Cups, including the past two; and McDavid, 20, who won the NHL scoring title and the Hart Trophy as league MVP last season — will steal the show Tuesday night when the teams meet at PPG Paints Arena.

The teams, however, are more interested in getting on the right track.

The Penguins (5-3-1) are coming off their second blowout loss, 7-1 at Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Oilers (2-5-0) are trying to better fill out the win column.

“Obviously, there’s some added interest because of the statures of the players,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said Monday. “That’s always exciting for everybody involved. We understand that.

“But our focus right now is on our team and trying to get better each and every day so that we’re playing the game more consistently.”

Edmonton coach Todd McLellan is on the same hunt for his club.

“We’ve had good practices. It’s transferring it over to the game (that has been a problem),” he said. “We worked hard (Monday). We got a lot done.”

So while the teams have game-planned for each other, their focus is primarily turned inward.

“I don’t think we can elevate our play right now based on our opponent,” McLellan said. “We have to elevate our play based on our standard. Is there a bit more of a motivating factor because these guys are back-to-back champs? I’d like to think so, but that shouldn’t be what’s driving our team.

“I’m sure their team and their leaders and their coach weren’t very happy with what happened in Tampa and they want to make amends for it. We should be the exact same way for where we’re at.”

Edmonton could get a boost with the potential return of center Leon Draisaitl (concussion) and winger Drake Caggiula (undisclosed injury). Both practiced but still need medical clearance to play.

For Pittsburgh, center Riley Sheahan is expected to play after being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in a trade Saturday.

In addition, the Penguins could dress freshly recalled rookie Casey DeSmith as the backup to goaltender Matt Murray. Antti Niemi, who has struggled and gave up all seven goals Saturday, was placed on waivers Monday. He was 0-3-0 with a 7.50 goals-against average this season.

Club officials did not disclose their plans regardless of whether Niemi is claimed by another team.

Those things could all be overshadowed if Crosby, McDavid or both put on a show.

McDavid leads the Oilers with eight points. Crosby leads Pittsburgh with five goals and is tied with Evgeni Malkin for the team lead with 10 points.

“When you’re watching him, you’re hoping he’ll do something cool, and when you’re playing against him you’re not hoping that,” McDavid said of Crosby.

Crosby downplayed the matchup.

“There are always matchups, story lines, things like that,” he said. “We sit here and we talk about them, but our job is to go out there and play. That’s what I try to do.”