The Sidney Crosby vs. Connor McDavid debate is one of the fiercest among all hockey circles, but Oilers’ head coach Ken Hitchcock put aside all the comparisons Wednesday morning and talked at length about all the things the young superstar in Edmonton can learn from the decorated veteran still playing at an elite level in western Pennsylvania.
“Sid thinks at a level, when the other team has the puck, that’s above anybody in the league,” Hitchcock said. “His anticipation when the other team has the puck is so high, and he knows where it’s going ahead of time. He anticipates what the next play is going to be, and puts his stick in that lane, or he gets the puck himself and creates the turnover. He also knows where people are located on the ice to turn that turnover into a scoring chance.”
“All you have to do is look at the first three scoring chances in the Philadelphia game,” Hitchcock continued. “He created those scoring chances three different ways, and every time, a Pittsburgh defenseman had the puck. If you go and look at the end of the game, it’s a 6-on-4 power play, and he froze a really good player on the half wall with his stick and body position for 15 seconds to kill the power play. His thinking on the ice when the other team has the puck is so elite that he knows when to pick it off and when to freeze people.”
That’s the elite type of mental and visual skills Hitchcock knows McDavid possesses and wants to see more regularly as he ages and progresses as a player.
“Connor has that (skill) in him,” Hitchcock said. “He sniffs out danger offensively, but Sid thinks it defensively too. He’s got both going. That’s what Connor is going to get to.”
Crosby himself was asked in his media availability if the novelty of playing against McDavid has worn off at all, and the Captain was cool in his response, making sure to show his respect for McDavid’s ability.
“There’s always a certain challenge when it comes to (playing McDavid),” Crosby said. “I think guys are aware when you’re playing someone of his caliber. There’s probably a hightened awareness, especially when he’s on the ice. You try to prepare for that, especially this time of year. But we’re really just focused on getting wins, and part of that is preparing for who you’re playing against.”
Crosby was also asked if he has followed McDavid’s progression since his rookie season, and what aspects of his game really stand out to him.
“He’s been pretty good since the start, so it’s hard to really get better from there. If it’s possible, he’s done that. He’s been so consistent and finds different ways to produce. Every part of his game is so dangerous. It’s pretty hard to stop him.”
In his responses, Crosby started to draw comparisons of McDavid’s frustrating career situation with his own frustrations as a young player, lamenting with the process and saying how much they both have had to learn on the fly.
“When I think about when we lost in ‘08, I thought that was my only shot,” Crosby said. “And definitely, with being young, you probably put more pressure on yourself just in general. Whether it’s to win or expectations. You have to go through certain things in order to learn and move on. He has done a great job, and he continues to learn, and it’s something that takes time.”
The first matchup between these two teams all the way back in October was a blast to watch from the standpoint of the fanbase, especially with the highlight reel goal by the Captain in overtime to seal the win for Pittsburgh.
This time around, we may see a Penguins team tighten up defensively first and foremost with Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup and Chad Ruhwedel, after months without playing, back in. A playoff spot is the main focus right now, so a less wide-open game with a more shutdown approach is something Crosby and the rest of the team will be channelling tonight.