Superstars square off when Penguins, Oilers meet

There are dual storylines for Thursday’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Edmonton Oilers.

For starters, both clubs are trying to solidify a spot in the playoffs in opposing conferences as they enter the final months of the regular season. But on a smaller scale, the game also offers a matchup of two of the league’s biggest superstars and most dynamic players, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

The Oilers came back to earn a 4-2 win on Tuesday over Philadelphia, breaking a four-game losing streak (0-1-3). McDavid had two goals and an assist, including the go-ahead goal in the third, and picked up his 800th career point.

“The third period was more like the way we wanted to play,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said.

During their losing skid, the Oilers had blown three-goal leads in back-to-back games and had allowed 20 goals over the four setbacks.

McDavid had five assists but no goals during the skid.

“The last week or so I’ve had some really good chances and they weren’t going in,” McDavid said. “Sometimes you need a little bounce and sometimes your team needs to win an ugly one to go on a run as well. It was the bounce that I maybe needed and our group needed.”

The Penguins could use such a bounce, or something.

Pittsburgh has lost three straight, all within the Metropolitan Division. The Pens are coming off a 4-2 loss against the New York Islanders, when No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry returned from a nine-game absence (upper-body injury) but the team blew a third-period lead.

“We need to stay on the same page as a unit — everyone on the ice — and I think a big thing for us is momentum,” Penguins winger Jason Zucker told Pittsburgh Hockey Now.

“There are times when we could be a little bit more driven to either get that momentum back or keep it when we have it.”

Mistakes have been a common and unwanted theme for Pittsburgh.

“You’ve got to try to minimize the egregious ones,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ll try to learn from the experience. We’ve got to get better.”

Perhaps the McDavid-Crosby matchup will boost both teams.

McDavid is on a dizzying pace. He has 44 goals and 105 points — both leading the NHL — through 58 games.

Crosby, who during his first decade or so was recognized and promoted as the face of the NHL, has not slowed at age 35. He has 25 goals and 68 points through 56 games to lead his team.

Crosby scored once, while McDavid had no points in a 6-3 Oilers win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 24.

Both McDavid and Crosby have collected cases full of trophies. McDavid is seemingly on pace to pick up a fifth Art Ross as the league’s scoring champion, a third Hart as league MVP and his first Maurice Richard for scoring the most goals.

Crosby has three Stanley Cups while McDavid has none.

Crosby and McDavid have longtime sidekicks who are both having strong seasons.

Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin has 21 goals and 56 points, while Edmonton winger Leon Draisaitl has 34 and 85, respectively.

–Field Level Media