EDMONTON, AB - A lot of eyes will be on the Connor McDavid versus Sidney Crosby show tonight at Rogers Place. The two first-overall picks are at the top of the pack of NHL scoring leaders this season. McDavid leads them all with 74 points, while Crosby and Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin have 70 each.
The NHL scoring race comes through Rogers Place, and hockey fans around North America will be paying attention to the offensive firepower in the house.
When you look specifically at Crosby and McDavid, the matchup is one that excites players and fans alike. It's no surprise to see them at the top of the scoring race.
"It's been done before by Sid and (Alex Ovechkin), I think, if we go back to their 20-, 21-year-old days," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "I think they were both up in that range.
"The iconic-type players seem to rise to the top and there is a 'wow factor' but it has been done before by those types of players and we just come to expect it from Connor now. He's that talented, he's that committed. He has some down nights, obviously, as all the top players do but for the most part he's been able to pull his weight and more and that's all we can ask from him."
Regardless of the personal challenge of facing Crosby, McDavid's mindset is on the team and the two points on the line.
"We're in a playoff hunt and these are two huge points," said McDavid. "Things have tightened so much in the West now. We have got to find ways to win games."
Even if the Oilers can shut down Crosby, who they held off the score sheet in their previous meeting - but lost the game 4-3 - the Penguins have plenty of offensive skill.
Malkin has 31 goals this season and Phil Kessel has 21. Pittsburgh has seven players with 34 or more points.
FACING THE PENS
While a lot is made of McDavid versus Crosby, Edmonton will need a team effort to halt the high-flying Penguins' momentum. But the team focus doesn't stop individuals from being excited to play against one of the League's superstars. Various Oilers players around the locker room have talked about being "amped up" to play the Penguins, and Crosby in particular.
"It's exciting," said Oilers rookie defenceman Matt Benning. "I've watched him while growing up and he's done a lot in his career that's been amazing. For me, I've played against him before and got a taste of what it's like to play against him, and took my first NHL penalty against him. He's an elite player, so you've got to be on your toes that's for sure."
As for combatting the Penguins as a team, Benning - along with the rest of the Oilers - will look to take the physicality to them.
"Anytime you face an offensive firepower like these guys, you've got to rise to the challenge," said Benning. "I think it's exciting. They have all that talent up front, so for me it's about getting into guys' equipment and limiting their time. When they have time, they can do so many things with the puck, without time it makes it a little bit hard."
When the Penguins come to town, the Oil will look to limit their time, finish their checks and match the offensive intensity.
"I think our offence has to be a little better," said Oilers winger Iiro Pakarinen. "They have really good forwards there and we have to keep the puck in their zone and try to get the pucks through to the net and the defensive game too, we need to not commit turnovers in the neutral zone, move the pucks deep and I think that's key tonight."
Pakarinen, along with Benoit Pouliot and Kris Russell, are projected additions to the Oilers lineup. The lines and pairings are expected to be as follows, based on practice yesterday and interviews today:
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (35-23-8) vs. PENGUINS (41-16-8)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
This is the second and final meeting between the Oilers and Penguins this season and the lone game in Edmonton. The last time these teams met in Edmonton was on Nov. 6, 2015, when the Penguins topped the Oilers 2-1.
The last time these teams met was on November 8th in Pittsburgh, when the Oilers fell to the Penguins by a score of 4-3. Connor McDavid posted three assists in the loss.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers have 78 points, two behind Anaheim for second place in the Pacific Division and tied with Calgary for third.
Connor McDavid has 74 points (22G, 52A) in 66 games and continues to lead the NHL in scoring, with a four-point lead on Sidney Crosby (PIT) and Patrick Kane (CHI). McDavid has led the league in scoring at some point in all four months of the 2016-17 season. He has led or co-led the NHL in scoring since Nov. 22, 2016.
He has points in nine of his past 11 games (4 G, 10 A, 14 PTS).
McDavid has 22 multi-point games this season, the most in the NHL, one more than Evgeni Malkin (PIT). McDavid has had three points in a game on eight occasions.
Forward Leon Draisaitl has 55 points (23G, 32A) in 66 games, setting career highs for points, goals and has tied his career-high for assists (32). That point total puts him in 27th place in the NHL scoring race, tied with three other players at 55 points, including last year's Maurice Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin (WSH).
With 55 points, the native of Cologne, Germany is also only four points from tying Marco Sturm for the most points in one season by a player from Germany. Sturm had 59 points (29G, 30A) in 2005-06 with the Boston Bruins/San Jose Sharks.
Goaltender Cam Talbot has now appeared in an NHL high 59 games this season, and leads the NHL in minutes played (3,497) and saves (1,583) and ranks fourth in wins (33). The Caledonia, Ont. has set new career highs in all these categories in 2016-17.
Talbot is also within striking distance of the Oilers record for wins by a goaltender in one season, which is 40, a record held by Grant Fuhr (1987-88).
Talbot has also earned five shutouts this season, matching his career high from 2014-15, while he was with the Rangers.
The Penguins are tied for second overall in the NHL with Minnesota and Columbus. They are also tied for second in the Metropolitan Division with the Blue Jackets, two points up on the Rangers.
The Metropolitan Division is the best in hockey by far. The top four teams in the division are ranked first through sixth overall in the entire NHL standings.
The Penguins are 13-3-2 overall in their last 18 visits to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Pittsburgh has finished with a winning record through Western Canada in each of its last six visits. They are also 9-0-3 in their last 12 games against the OIlers.
While the Oilers have the NHL's leading scorer in McDavid at 74 points, the Penguins have two players who are tied for second at 70 points in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
In 11 games since his return from injury on February 11, Malkin has nine goals and 16 points. That tied him with Jack Eichel and Filip Forsberg for the most points in the NHL during that span as of March 9.
Malkin's two goals against Winnipeg gave him 31 for the season, the fifth time in his career he has scored 30 times, and the first since scoring 50 goals in 2011-12.
This is also just the third time in their careers that he and Sidney Crosby have each scored 30 goals in the same season, and the first time they've done so since 2008-09.
Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury pitched a 28-save, two-period shutout in relief of Matt Murray on Sunday, allowing the Penguins to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win against Buffalo.
Fleury has won seven-straight starts against the Oilers.
Nick Bonino registered his second career hat trick on Wednesday gave him five points (3G-2A) in four March games thus far. Last year, Bonino totaled 13 points (5G-8A) in 16 March contests. That represented 45% of his season point total. For his career, Bonino averages 0.62 points per game in March. That is by far his highest average, with his second-best mark 0.48 points per game in October.