Good luck to those trying to get tickets if you want to attend Friday night’s Penguins-Oilers matchup. This will be the first time Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid will face off in an NHL game in Edmonton. It’s also the last meeting between Crosby and McDavid this season…unless the Penguins and Oilers meet in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Edmonton Oilers
Moneylines: :Penguins -115, Oilers +105
Date: Friday, March 10, 9 p.m. ET
Location: Rogers Place, Edmonton
Can Pittsburgh (41-16-8) repeat as Stanley Cup champion? The Penguins have the offence to pull it off, leading the league in scoring (3.5 gpg) and ranking 2nd in power-play percentage (23.1). The best the Pens can do at this point in the regular season is to finish second in the Metropolitan as Washington should repeat as both division champion and the Presidents’ Trophy winner. That’s not set in stone, however. Columbus also is in the mix for both.
The Pens beat the Capitals in six games in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals, and those two might be on another collision course in that round this spring. Pittsburgh is a +450 second-favourite on NHL odds to win the East again and +800 to win another Cup.
Some were surprised that Pittsburgh didn’t trade goalie Marc-Andre Fleury by the March 1 deadline because it has a No. 1 in Matt Murray — he backstopped the team to last year’s Cup. Keeping Fleury at least gives the team insurance should Murray get injured. Pittsburgh remains without its top defenseman, Kris Letang. He hasn’t played since Feb. 21 due to an upper-body injury and won’t for a while. Letang is a terrific two-way blueliner and has five goals and 29 assists in 41 games.
Crosby has won the Hart Trophy twice and is right there in the discussion again with 70 points and a league-leading 34 goals. Crosby was McDavid’s idol growing up. The two didn’t play against one another last season as both games between the Pens and Oilers were in November and McDavid was out with a broken collarbone.
Pittsburgh enters on a three-game winning streak after a 7-4 victory in Winnipeg on Wednesday. Nick Bonino had a hat trick and so did Evgeni Malkin – the Gordie Howe kind. That’s a goal, assist and a fight; Malkin had two goals. Crosby had an assist, and Murray made 31 saves to set a team record for wins by a rookie with 25. Murray kept his “rookie” status by playing in only 13 regular-season games last year.
The Oilers (35-23-8) likely won’t catch San Jose for the Pacific Division title, but Edmonton still could finish as high as second and earn home-ice advantage for the Western Conference quarterfinals. The Oilers are battling the Anaheim Ducks and red-hot Calgary Flames for that spot. It’s also possible the Oilers could fall all the way out of the playoffs with a disappointing final month-plus of the regular season. The franchise hasn’t played extra hockey since losing in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. The Oilers are +850 on Sports Interaction NHL odds to win the West and +1700 for the Cup.
Since a three-game winning streak from Feb. 14-18, the Oilers have been inconsistent in going 3-4 overall as the Sharks have pulled away atop the Pacific. Edmonton started a season-high eight-game homestand last Saturday with a 4-3 victory over Detroit. However, the Oilers were flat Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Islanders. That didn’t help the Toronto Maple Leafs as they are fighting with the Islanders (among a couple of others) for a wild-card spot in the East.
McDavid is a Hart Trophy candidate too as he leads the NHL with 74 points (22 goals, 52 assists), just ahead of four guys at 70 points (as of Thursday), including Crosby and reigning scoring champion and Hart winner Patrick Kane of Chicago. McDavid had a five-game points streak snapped in the loss to the Islanders.
Oilers winger Leon Draisaitl is closing in on a record: most points scored in an NHL season by a German-born player. That is 59 by Marco Sturm in 2007-08 with the Boston Bruins. Sturm’s 487 career points are also the most for a German player. Draisaitl leads the Oilers with 23 goals and is second with 55 points.
Edmonton might need to give netminder Cam Talbot a night off soon because he has played seven straight games and leads the league by far with 59 appearances. He has had a save percentage of .885 or lower in three of his past four outings. Might Talbot be tiring?
Penguins at Oilers Predictions
Edmonton visited Pittsburgh on Nov. 8 and lost 4-3, with McDavid admitting after he was a bit star struck taking the opening draw against Crosby: “I don’t even think I got my stick on it.” McDavid had three assists, but the Penguins rallied for the victory on Conor Sheary’s second goal of the game with 1:42 left. Murray had 25 saves, while Crosby was held without a point. Jordan Eberle had two goals for the Oilers and Patrick Maroon the other, all on set-ups by McDavid. Talbot had 27 saves.
Pittsburgh has a 12-game unbeaten streak (9-0-3) against the Oilers dating back to Dec. 5, 2007. That continues Friday. Also take the over 5.5 goals.