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Crosby proving he has edge over McDavid as best player in NHL

Penguins captain uses 200-foot game to improve to 6-0-0 head-to-head against Oilers center

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The day after Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, the debate over who is the better player right now continued.

Crosby, whose Penguins are 6-0-0 in head-to-head matchups against McDavid and the Oilers following a 3-1 win Wednesday, has 66 points (24 goals, 42 assists) in 54 games this season.

McDavid, who led the League in scoring each of the past two seasons, has 82 points (31 goals, 51 assists) in 55 games this season, six points behind NHL leader Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The debate picked up steam in October, when Crosby told NHL.com that McDavid was his pick as the League's top player.

Four months later, after each player displayed his incredible offensive skill, the Penguins' 31-year-old captain remains impressed with the Oilers' 22-year-old center, noting that it is difficult to find flaws in McDavid's game.

"He's been pretty good from the start, so it's hard to get better from there," Crosby said after the Penguins victory Wednesday. "But if it's possible, he will. He's always been so consistent. I think every part of his game is so dangerous, so it's pretty hard to stop him."

However, two key plays in the win Wednesday provide a glimpse of what tilts the argument in Crosby's favor.

The first came in the second period, when McDavid appeared to lose Bryan Rust, who came from behind the net to score a shorthanded goal to tie the game 1-1.

Then, in the third period, McDavid came flying off the bench and began to streak down the left wing with the Oilers trailing 2-1. Crosby, sensing the potential danger of the rush, took a perfect angle on the backcheck to intercept and bump him off the puck, sending each player tumbling to the ice.

Video: Taking a look at Connor McDavid vs. Sidney Crosby

Crosby finished the game with a plus-2 rating; McDavid was minus-1.

It's that sixth sense in the 200-foot game that Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said separates Crosby from everyone else, including McDavid.

"Sid thinks at a level, when the other team has the puck, that's above everyone else in the League," Hitchcock said. "His anticipation when the other team has the puck is so high, he knows where it's going ahead of time. He can pick off passes, make you make errors … And then he also knows where people are located on the ice, so he can turn that turnover into a scoring chance."

It is an aspect of the game that Hitchcock said McDavid continues to learn and embrace.

"Connor has that in him," Hitchcock said. "He sniffs out danger offensively. Sid thinks it defensively -- he has both going. That's where Connor is going to get to."

Hitchcock said he grew to appreciate Crosby's attention to detail during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when he was an assistant to Canada coach Mike Babcock.

"When we were at practice, there were times when we'd say to ourselves, 'What the [heck] is he doing? Where is he going?' Well, he was practicing designated plays that weren't connected to the drill we were doing," Hitchcock said. "You were wondering why he was doing it, and then you'd see it pop up in a game.

"The second thing was, the bigger the game, the more he was a factor. As the games got bigger, he just got to a higher level that no one else could obtain. To do it once in a while is OK. But to do it every time it's a big game? Pretty special."

Crosby is clearly a big-game player, having won the Stanley Cup three times (2009, 2016-17), the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice (2016, 2017) and two Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014). But even McDavid admires Crosby's play at each end of the ice.

"(Specifically) how strong he is down low," McDavid said. "As the low centerman, playing against him, he's so strong on his skates. So stocky. He's tough to knock off the puck, which is a great quality to have.

"I think I'm pretty strong on my skates, but probably not to that level. Ultimately I'll never be as stocky or as wide as him, but it's definitely stuff you can work on."

One thing Crosby knows for sure: one player, even as talented as McDavid, cannot carry a team by himself.

Entering Thursday, the Oilers (24-27-5) are six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"It's just a fine line between winning and losing," Crosby said. "That's what it comes down to. I think you're right, it's definitely a team sport.

"You need everyone chipping in."

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