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Sidney Crosby-Connor McDavid matchup lives up to hype

Oilers captain gets three assists, but Penguins survive

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- During the buildup to playing against Connor McDavid for the first time, Sidney Crosby joked that he's "old."

Crosby is nowhere near over the hill at age 29, but he can see the future of the NHL is young and fast and it's coming after him.

"I think that's a good thing," Crosby said after his Pittsburgh Penguins' 4-3 win against McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday.

Crosby saw firsthand what makes McDavid so special. The 19-year-old, who grew up idolizing Crosby, put on a show over the first period-plus, utilizing his blazing speed and passing skill to set up three goals and help the Oilers jump out to a 3-1 lead.

The Penguins battled back to pull out the win when Conor Sheary scored his second goal of the game with 1:42 remaining, but McDavid left an impression on the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

"(With) his speed, he doesn't need a lot of time and space," Crosby said. "It's one thing to kind of watch games and see it, but out there you can tell that he really needs no time and space at all. If you're even with him you're in big trouble, so you'd better make sure you're a step ahead."

While McDavid, the first pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, was doing his thing in Pittsburgh, Patrik Laine, the second pick in the 2016 draft, got his second hat trick of the season and also had an assist in the Winnipeg Jets' 8-2 win against the Dallas Stars. The Penguins won't see Laine until the Jets visit Pittsburgh on Feb. 16, but Crosby will face Auston Matthews, the first pick in the 2016 draft, when the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town on Saturday in what will be another measuring-stick game for a young star.

Video: EDM@PIT: Eberle buries McDavid's feed on two-on-one

Crosby welcomes all challengers to his throne as the world's best player, but he's not ready to give it up yet.

"It's great the young guys are doing well," he said. "It gets people excited about the game. I don't have a problem with it. I think it's fun to have those matchups. These guys are exciting guys to watch and you want to compete against them. I think that's a good thing."

That said, Crosby admitted he didn't have that much fun on Tuesday until "after the first." Matched against McDavid for much of the first two periods, his line with Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist was victimized on all three Oilers goals.

"It's tough," Crosby said. "You feel like you're getting a lot. You're generating some chances, and then two or three end up in your net right off of some great chances."

After a fractured clavicle caused McDavid to miss both of the Oilers' games against the Penguins last season, it was clear he was excited for the matchup against Crosby, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season and was voted most valuable player of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 after captaining Canada to the championship.

"It was a good chance for me to kind of measure myself against the best player in the world," McDavid said. "To go head-to-head with him all night, it was a good test."

Video: EDM@PIT: Maroon buries McDavid's perfect feed

McDavid entered the game leading the Oilers with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 13 games, but had been limited to no goals and two assists in his previous five. That slump disappeared in a flash after the Penguins took a 1-0 lead 1:57 into the game on Sheary's first of the night.

First, McDavid set up Jordan Eberle on a 2-on-1 rush for a goal that tied the game at 1-1 at 14:23 of the first. Then, McDavid set up Patrick Maroon for a goal on a 3-on-2 rush with 2:42 remaining in the first period.

About 15 seconds earlier, McDavid hustled back to strip Hagelin of the puck from behind and prevent a scoring chance. Racing back in the other direction, he made Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin appear flatfooted as he sped around him on the right wing before shoveling a backhand feed in front that Maroon tapped in for his fifth.

It was more of the same to begin the second; McDavid assisted on another Eberle goal that extended Edmonton's lead to 3-1 at 3:20. The play started in the Oilers end after goaltender Cam Talbot made a save against Hornqvist on a 4-on-1 rush.

McDavid picked up the rebound in the right circle and passed ahead to Eberle to begin what became another 2-on-1. McDavid again used his speed to create the odd-man advantage by driving down the slot on Eberle's left.

Video: EDM@PIT: Eberle beats Murray with a nifty move

Dumoulin turned his back on Eberle to try to defend McDavid, giving Eberle a clear path to cut to the net and slide a backhand around Murray's right pad.

"We knew they were opportunistic and had a lot of speed," Crosby said. "I don't think we wanted to necessarily be in a back-and-forth game. Sometimes that happens."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan often chooses to "go power against power" by matching Crosby's line against the opponent's top line. After Eberle's second goal, Sullivan started trying to get Crosby away from McDavid. And in the third period, Evgeni Malkin's line played more against McDavid.

Although Crosby was held without a point for the first time this season, he still had a hand in the Penguins comeback.

Crosby fed defenseman Trevor Daley for a left circle shot that deflected off Hornqvist's skate in front and slid to Hagelin for the goal the pulled the Penguins within 3-2 with 7:52 remaining in the second. After Malkin tied it 5:33 into the third, Crosby was on the ice with Sheary and Hornqvist for the winning goal.

In the end, McDavid won the statistical matchup with Crosby, but the Penguins' depth prevailed.

"That's how you win and that's normal," Crosby said. "There's always talk about certain matchups and you want to win at the end of the day, but it's fun. People get excited for it. You get up for games like that."

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