Connor McDavid skated into the faceoff circle and looked up and there he was: his childhood idol Sidney Crosby.
The NHL’s future vs. the NHL’s present. And as mature as the Edmonton Oilers’ rising 19-year-old star can be on the ice, even he was a momentarily starstruck by the Pittsburgh Penguins captain. The proof came in what happened next.
“It was pretty funny that I take the opening draw against him and have him snap it back,” McDavid said. “I don’t even think I got my stick on it.”
The jitters vanished almost instantly. McDavid more than held his own in his first meeting with the two-time MVP, picking up three assists. The Penguins, however, rallied for a 4-3 victory behind Conor Sheary’s two goals, including the winner with 1:42 left.
“Every game we’re down two we still think we have a chance to win,” Sheary said. “Nothing was different for us tonight.”
Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh while Matt Murray stopped 25 shots in his first home start since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Crosby was held without a point for the first time this season, but helped start the deciding sequence by creating a turnover behind the Edmonton net eventually became a goal when Oilers forward Benoit Pouliot’s clear attempt smacked off Sheary and by Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot.
“I don’t know who whacked it, but it ended up in the back of the net,” Sheary said.
Penguins win 4th straight
The Penguins won their fourth straight and remained unbeaten in regulation (6-0-1) while also praising McDavid and the upstart Oilers, who are atop the Pacific Division by playing a blazing end-to-end game that dares opponents to keep up. McDavid’s line provided all three goals, with Jordan Eberle getting two and Patrick Maroon getting the other, all on set-ups by McDavid.
“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 really tell he needs no time and space at all. If you’re even with him, you’re in big trouble so you better make sure you’re a step ahead.”
The Penguins took a 1-0 lead 1:57 in on Sheary’s goal before McDavid went to work proving what the fuss was all about. He kickstarted a mini 2-on-1 with Eberle and slipped a short crossing pass to his teammate that Eberle buried over Murray’s glove 14:23 into the first. McDavid was a blur less than three minutes later, racing into the Pittsburgh zone then weaving his way around defenceman Brian Dumoulin before finding Maroon.
“They’re quick, there’s no question,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “They play a similar game to us. I thought we handled it just fine. I thought the pace of the game was fast. It was an exciting game to be a part of.”
The Penguins, fresh off a 3-0-1 road trip fueled by a resurgent Crosby, briefly found themselves flat-footed trying to keep pace. Talbot turned away a 4-on-1 break to set up an Edmonton rush that ended with Eberle skating in alone on Murray before sending the puck past the sprawled goaltender.
Pittsburgh recovered to tie it, with Hagelin burying a rebound late in the second to bring the Penguins within a goal and Malkin tying it 5:33 into the third with a backhand deflection. The Penguins kept the pressure up late, resulting in Sheary’s second of the night and third of the season.
“They’re never out of a game,” McDavid said. “You can be up 3-1, but they have so much offensive firepower and they can find a way either way, no matter what.”