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McDavid vs. Crosby something to savor

Oilers captain, reigning NHL MVP faces off against Penguins' two-time Conn Smythe winner for first time this season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Last season, when Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid faced Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby for the first and second times, McDavid was still confirming his credentials in the NHL.

He was going to be great. He just hadn't had the chance to be great for a full season, thanks to a broken collarbone that cost him 37 games in 2015-16 and likely the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

As McDavid and Crosby meet again at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; SN1, TVA Sports, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV), McDavid has lived up to the hype as Crosby once did and continues to do.

It isn't just No. 97 vs. No. 87, the Next One vs. Sid the Kid, the No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft vs. the No. 1 pick of the 2005 NHL Draft anymore. It's the reigning scoring champion and MVP vs. the reigning goal-scoring champion and MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: CGY@EDM: McDavid cashes in on the rebound

It isn't about what might be; it's about what is. These are the two best players in the world. The only question is who is No. 1. At the NHL Player Media Tour in New York in September, McDavid said it was Crosby. Crosby said it was McDavid.

It's something to savor. How often will we see them go head to head at the highest level? The Oilers and Penguins play against each other twice in the regular season. McDavid is 20, Crosby 30.

"When you're watching, you're hoping for him to do something cool," McDavid said Monday. "And when you're playing against him, you're not."

Neither team is at its best. The Oilers are 2-5-0. The Penguins are 5-3-1, coming off a 7-1 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Neither McDavid nor Crosby is among the NHL scoring leaders. Lightning forward Steven Stamkos leads the League with 18 points (three goals, 15 assists); Nikita Kucherov (10 goals, six assists) is second with 16 points. Crosby has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in nine games. McDavid has eight (three goals, five assists) in seven and hasn't scored since a hat trick in the Oilers' season opener, a 3-0 victory against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 4.

But it's early, and McDavid and Crosby each dropped jaws lately.

In a 2-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Thursday, McDavid skated up the middle, spun to shield the puck from defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and slipped a backhand pass across the goalmouth to forward Patrick Maroon. At full speed. Maroon tapped it in.

In a 5-4 overtime victory against the New York Rangers on Oct. 17, Crosby lurked to the right of the net with the goalie pulled late in the third. Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist gloved the puck. Crosby waited until Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk touched it, so the play wouldn't be whistled for a hand pass, then backhanded it from the end boards off Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and in. Game tied 4-4 with 55.3 seconds to go.

Video: PIT@NYR: Crosby beats Lundqvist from behind the net

This game has the potential to bring out the best in each team and each star, and to create highlights. McDavid had three assists in the first game, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 8. On one, he rocketed past defenseman Brian Dumoulin on the right wing, backhanded the puck past defenseman Kris Letang in front and set up Maroon for a tap-in. He had a goal in the second game, at Rogers Place in Edmonton on March 10.

"I don't know if you can necessarily stop him," Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said. "I think you try to slow him down, you try to get in the way, you try to make the game really hard for him. … He's so fast and so explosive, and not only that, he passes the puck as well as anybody at those high speeds.

"You try to play one-on-one against him, not only can he beat you himself, but he'll use that, bait guys over and then make a play. So that's why I think to win a game against a guy like that, you need to play five-man team defense. You've always got to have a forward reloading back, coming to help. You really have to rely on each other to help out in coverage.

"It was certainly a challenge last year, and it'll certainly be a challenge this year."

Video: PIT@FLA: Crosby scores power-play goal on redirection

Crosby did not have a point in either game last season. But the Penguins won each: 4-3 on Nov. 8, 3-2 in a shootout on March 10.

"It'll come down to team play, but you do appreciate as a coach, a fan, even a player, their skill sets and what they've brought to their teams and their communities even off the rink," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "Both of them are tremendous that way. It's fun when they're together."

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