It wasn’t so long ago that he was The Kid. Now, with teens like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews establishing their NHL presence, Sidney Crosby is more like an elder statesman as he meets The Heirs.
Crosby’s first opportunity to meet one of the league’s next generational talents comes Tuesday, when the Penguins host the Edmonton Oilers. With McDavid missing much of last season with a broken collarbone, the two will be on the same sheet of ice for the first time at PPG Paints Arena.
“Once you get out there, I think that’s the best part. The competitive side kind of takes over,” Crosby said. “And there’s matchups every night like that. Some aren’t talked about as much as others, but there’s some that, personally, you feel like are a bit more of a matchup than people think, just because of history or what you expect against certain guys. That competition is why you play; that’s what you love about the game.
“But yeah, some are talked about more than others, and obviously [this] will be one that’s talked about a little more.”
For Crosby and the Penguins, the bigger focus will be on earning two points. In 12 games, they’ve got 18, good for second place in the Metropolitan division and third place in the East. But Edmonton, too, has gone from basement dweller to contender in the early going. They lead the Pacific Division with 19 points in 13 games and are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks atop the Western Conference.
“From our standpoint, and with all due respect to both of the players – they’re both terrific players – they’re two pretty good teams, too,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “The way I look at it is, we’re trying to improve as a group, and we’ve got a big test against a really good team.”
Both teams’ captains have played a big role in their success. Crosby returned from a concussion to take over the league’s goal-scoring lead, tallying eight in just six games played. McDavid is sixth overall in scoring with 14 points in 13 games.
“His speed stands out the most,” Crosby said. “I think that allows him to do so many other things. He sees the ice really well. [He’s] strong on the puck. But I think his hockey sense and his speed are probably the biggest things.”
“He’s obviously one of the bright young players in the league, and he’s a very good player,” Sullivan said. “That team has taken another step and he’s a big reason why. We’re obviously going to have to be aware when he’s on the ice.”
At age 29, meanwhile, Crosby just seems to find new ways to refine and elevate his game.
“What we see from him is what we always see from him,” Sullivan said. “Nothing surprises us; he’s just a great player. I don’t know how else to say it. I think we’ve grown to expect it out of him each and every night, and he does it.
“I really admire his consistency. Even on nights where he may not score a goal, he’s always making a contribution. There’s always an impact on the game, and that’s where his game is right now. He plays a 200-foot game; he plays away from the puck as hard as he plays with the puck. We can use him in any situation we want…because he’s that capable at both ends of the rink. I have so much respect for how hard he works at his game, day in and day out, and I think that’s one of the things that separates him from other elite players.”
It’s easy to picture McDavid, who grew up idolizing Crosby, circling Nov. 8 on his calendar when this year’s schedule was published. Crosby understands.
“I remember I always wanted to play against Steve Yzerman,” Crosby said. “I think, unfortunately, he got hurt the game before we ended up playing against the Wings that time.
“Peter Forsberg was another guy that, growing up, I really liked to watch, and got a pretty hard lesson the first couple times I played him, I was minus 5. I think I was watching him a little too much. He was in Philly so I saw him a lot, and learned pretty quick that now I’ve got to compete against him, not watch him. That was fun.”
For Crosby, Tuesday is an opportunity to establish himself as the same kind of thorn in McDavid’s side.
“I think there’s always matchups head-to-head,” Crosby said. “But those small little games within a game – guys like [Henrik] Zetterberg that you know every night are going to compete and make you earn whatever you get.”