Crosby, McDavid eye first battle as Penguins host Oilers
PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby, meet Connor McDavid. Connor McDavid, meet Sidney Crosby.
Oh, the NHL's most celebrated draft pick of the 2000s – Crosby, back when he was The Kid – and the most celebrated of the 2010s – McDavid, who's succeeded Crosby in being The Kid, but isn't quite yet the man — have already met in person.
That handshake occurred a couple of years ago when McDavid played junior hockey in Erie, Pa., about 125 miles north of Pittsburgh. Crosby and Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, himself a former Canadian wunderkind, went to visit.
But Crosby, arguably hockey's biggest star, and McDavid, hockey's brightest young star, haven't met on the ice. Until now.
Could be perfect timing, too.
McDavid's Edmonton Oilers, coming off a 2-1 win in Detroit and No. 2 overall in the Western Conference, take to the ice on Tuesday to face Crosby's Penguins, coming off a 3-0-1 road trip and No. 3 overall in the Eastern Conference. The meeting is perhaps the NHL's most intriguing matchup so far in a season that's only about a month old.
While it will be a head-to-head meeting only if Oilers coach Todd McLellan and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan choose to match their top lines against each other, it's the kind of competition that can drive a skilled player. And the teams they play for; the Oilers are off to a promising 9-3-1 start, including a 5-1-1 road record; the Penguins are 9-3-1, and are 5-0-1 on home ice.
Now 29, Crosby can remember his early days in the NHL in 2005-06 and his initial matchups against players such as Peter Forsberg. Crosby knows McDavid will be compared to him before, during and after the interconference game at PPG Paints Arena.
“Your competitive side takes over in such games,” Crosby said Monday. “There are matchups like that every night, but some aren't talked about as much as others. … Competition is why you play, and what you love, obviously some (matchups) are talked about more than others, and (Tuesday) night will be one that's talked about more.”
For good reason, too. Despite his age, McDavid – with his five goals and nine assists for 14 points – is rapidly pushing the Oilers into a bracket with the NHL's better teams.
Crosby, of course, is the primary reason why the Penguins won a second Stanley Cup last season and, despite missing the team's first six games to a concussion, leads the league with eight goals. He's coming off a two-goal performance Saturday in the Penguins' 5-0 win at San Jose, the team they defeated for the Stanley Cup in June.
Left wing Carl Hagelin has played only 2 1/2 games on Crosby's line this season but isn't shy about offering his praise.
“Every time he's on the ice, he wants to make a difference,” Hagelin said.
The 19-year-old McDavid acknowledges looking up to Crosby while he was younger – after all, he said, Crosby's already won “basically everything there is to win” – two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, scoring titles, the Conn Smythe, the whole works.
“I don't pattern myself after him, but he is the best player in the world,” McDavid told the team's website.
Whether McDavid can someday ascend to being such a player, and there's every sign he can, he'll get a chance to study the current No. 1 on Tuesday night.
Crosby recalled the first time he took on Forsberg; the Penguins lost and he was a minus-5. He realized afterward he “needed to compete, rather than just watch him.”
With Crosby and McDavid both on the same 200-foot long sheet of ice for the first time in the NHL, there could be a lot to see.
“He's one of the bright young players in the league,” Sullivan said of McDavid. “That team is trying to take another step, and he's a reason why.”