Crosby, McDavid meet as Penguins, Oilers jockey for position
Connor McDavid, the 22-year-old phenom, and Sidney Crosby, the 31-year-old long-time face of the NHL, will have one of their rare head-to-head meetings Wednesday when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Edmonton Oilers, but the matchup could be overshadowed by team matters.
Pittsburgh (29-20-7, 65 points), winner of the Stanley Cup in 2016 and '17, sits in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and is concerned with putting together a strong stretch drive to simply reach the playoffs.
Edmonton (24-26-5, 53 points) is staring up a hill at a possible spot in the postseason in the Western Conference and sits amid a whirl of questions about the direction of the franchise with the trade deadline approaching.
McDavid was tied for second in the league entering Tuesday's games with 81 points. Crosby leads the Penguins with 65 points.
The Penguins have moved up and down in the tight Metropolitan Division and nearly dropped out of the playoff picture with a four-game losing streak before a 4-1 win Monday at Philadelphia. The Flyers had been on a 9-0-1 tear.
"It wasn't pretty," said Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray, who made a career-high 50 saves in his first start since a short injury absence. "But they're not always pretty. They're not always going to be easy."
The win against the Flyers ended a three-game road trip heading into a three-game homestand that begins against Edmonton.
"We've got to build off it," Crosby said. "We all know how important the points are. To get a big win like this on the road, we'll try to take that momentum back home now."
Pittsburgh could get a boost with another player or two returning from injury. Defenseman Justin Schultz, who has missed four months because of a broken leg, could play against the Oilers, as could winger Zach Aston-Reese, who has a hand injury.
But there will also be two key absences. Defenseman Olli Maatta left Monday's game with a suspected shoulder injury after being checked into the boards, and the team placed him on injured reserve Tuesday, saying Maatta is out indefinitely.
Later Tuesday, the NHL announced a one-game suspension for center Evgeni Malkin for high-sticking, which he will serve Wednesday. In his first game back from an undisclosed injury against the Flyers, Malkin was given a match penalty after swinging his stick at the head of Michael Raffl.
The Oilers' problems are more of a longer-term, systemic type.
They are 1-2-2 in February and have lost seven of their last eight. Coach Ken Hitchcock blasted the team Saturday following a 5-2 loss to San Jose.
He still wasn't happy a couple days later.
"We do a lot of stuff analytically (looking at advanced statistics). We're built a certain way. And when we play outside of that, we don't have success," said Hitchcock, who took over in November when Todd McLellan was fired and is trying to change the team's style of play.
"I know the players are frustrated, and we're frustrated at times with it. ...We're not built like Pittsburgh. We're not built like San Jose."
Hitchcock said the point he wants to make to his players is simple.
"It's a roll-up-your-sleeves, get-your-hands-dirty message," he said. "You're going to makes mistakes along the way. It's not going to turn overnight. You don't get this formula changed overnight. ... We've got to be comfortable in our own skins."
Forward Zack Kassian said the Oilers, who are opening a three-game road trip, get it.
"We can't let frustration creep into our game this time of year," he said. "We know we're in a race. We know we're slipping away slowly, but we need to grab it, go on the road, have a good road game in Pittsburgh and go from there."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 12, 2019