Crosby-McDavid matchup headlines Penguins vs. Oilers: 3 things to watch

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One of the highlights of the NHL’s top games this weekend will take place in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon when Sidney Crosby and the Penguins host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

It’s an individual matchup of the league’s two biggest stars (and two best players) and one that we only get two times per year.

So far Crosby’s team has won all six head-to-head matchups in the series even though McDavid has shined (three goals, seven assists) in the games.

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday.

1) Obviously the Crosby-McDavid matchup. Simply the two best players in the league today.

Offensively speaking McDavid is the most impactful player in the league, averaging 1.31 points per game for his career, significantly more than any other player in the league since his debut. If you look at just the past three seasons and excluded his rookie season (when he played in just 45 games) that number jumps even higher to 1.36. He has become a lock for 100 points (assuming he stays healthy) and is going to be one of the favorites to win the scoring title every year. With a better supporting cast the past few years he would have probably been the league MVP every year.

But while McDavid may now have the offensive edge, Crosby is not ready to give up his crown as the league’s best player and no doubt welcomes the push that McDavid provides in that debate. Even with a slight decline in his offensive production (if only compared to what he did earlier in his career) Crosby is still one of the three or four most productive offensive players in the league and is a play-driving, team-carrying force in every situation.

2) The Penguins should be fully healthy. They already welcomed back Jared McCann, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bjugstad, Bryan Rust, and Alex Galchenyuk in recent days, but Saturday should see the return of their most significant injured player this season — Evgeni Malkin.

The Penguins activated Malkin from injured reserve on Friday, and while he is officially listed as a “game-time decision” all signs point to him being back in the lineup on Saturday. That is probably ahead of schedule from the original timeframe when he was sidelined.

He has played in just one-and-a-half games this season and has been motivated to have a bounce-back year. With him back in the lineup it will really be the first time all season that their entire lineup that they wanted to have will be on the ice together.

3) Don’t forget about Leon Draisaitl. As if Crosby, McDavid, and Malkin was not enough, there is a fourth superstar in this game and one that — as of Friday — was actually leading the league in scoring and tied for the league lead in goals.

Draisaitl is doing his best to prove his 2018-19 performance was not a fluke as he and McDavid have single-handedly carried the Oilers offense through the first month (with a little help from former Penguins forward James Neal).

The Oilers still have a lot of questions that need to be resolved before they can be expected to maintain this fast start, but the McDavid-Draisaitl duo is capable of taking over games when they are at their best. They have been at their best from Game No. 1 this season and get one of their biggest tests and most high-profile matchups on Saturday.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.