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Wednesday Night Hockey

'Wednesday Night Hockey': 5 Storylines

Spotlight on Crosby, McDavid as Penguins host Oilers

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

Two of the NHL's top stars will face off when the Edmonton Oilers visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on "Wednesday Night Hockey" at PPG Paints Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS).

Oilers center Connor McDavid, the two-time defending NHL scoring champion, is third this season with 81 points (31 goals, 50 assists) in 54 games. Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby is tied for 15th with 65 points (24 goals, 41 assists) in 53 games.

It's an important game for each team. The Penguins (29-20-7) have the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference but are trying to hold off the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres while looking to move up in the tightly packed Metropolitan Division. The Oilers (24-26-5) have won once in their past eight games (1-5-2) and enter a three-game road trip six points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card in the Western Conference. 

Here are 5 storylines to watch:


McDavid still shining

If there's a way to slow down McDavid, no one has found it yet. After leading the NHL with 100 and 108 points in the past two seasons, he enters play Wednesday on pace for an NHL career-high 120. McDavid has two goals and nine assists during a seven-game point streak. His speed makes him a threat to score every time he touches the puck, and his durability (22:48 of ice time per game, second among NHL forwards to Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers at 22:50) means that it's almost impossible to match lines against him. In five games against the Penguins, McDavid has nine points (three goals, six assists).

Video: EDM@MTL: McDavid tallies PPG from Nugent-Hopkins


Crosby grinds away

Crosby has been so good for so long that it's easy to take him for granted. He's on pace to finish with 97 points, which would his best offensive season since he led the NHL with 104 in 2013-14. His brilliance was on display the last time the Penguins played the Oilers, when he scored one of the most spectacular goals of the season in overtime to give Pittsburgh a 6-5 win on Oct. 23. Crosby doesn't have great offensive numbers against the Oilers when McDavid is in the lineup (two goals, one assist in five games), but the Penguins have won each of those games. He has no intention of letting the NHL's young talent pass him by just yet, and since the Penguins have the last change as the home team, it will be interesting to see how much Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan plays Crosby's line against McDavid's.

Video: PIT@PHI: Crosby puts home loose puck for opening goal


Oilers have much to figure out

Edmonton has 27 games remaining and is in a pack of nine teams scrambling for the two wild cards in the West. But the Oilers haven't been playing with the kind of urgency they'll need to get into the playoffs for the second time since 2006. Coach Ken Hitchcock expressed his displeasure after a 5-2 home loss to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday and knows that time is beginning to slip away. After saying during his postgame comments that "The coaches can't want it more than the players," Hitchcock clarified that statement Monday. "I said the coaches can't want it, and I meant style of play, more than the players," Hitchcock said. "The players have to want that style of play, and that's the ongoing dialogue and debate you get into with players all the time."


More from Murray

Penguins goalie Matt Murray played one of the best games of his NHL career on Monday, making 50 saves in a 4-1 road win against the Philadelphia Flyers. It's been an up-and-down season for Murray, who's 16-9-1 with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage during a season that's seen him battle injuries and inconsistency. The Penguins need more performances like the one he turned in Monday, when he made 28 saves in the second period against a team that was 9-0-1 entering the game.

Video: PIT@PHI: Murray sets career high with 50 saves


Oilers looking for balance

McDavid and forward Leon Draisaitl (66 points; 32 goals, 34 assists) are among the most dangerous forward pairings in the NHL, and forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (52 points; 17 goals, 35 assists) is on the way to his best offensive season since entering the NHL in 2011. The problem for the Oilers is that they're getting very little offense from anyone else. Forward Alex Chiasson (17) is the only other player who's reached double figures in goals; Zack Kassian, who has been playing with McDavid and Draisaitl the past few games, is next with eight. Hitchcock has juggled his line combinations but hasn't gotten much from anyone who's not playing with McDavid and Draisaitl.

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