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It’s the best there is against the best there was, with the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting Rogers Place on Sunday.

Sidney Crosby has been synonymous with excellence on the ice since well before he was drafted first overall by the Penguins in 2005. Born in 1987 and wearing No. 87, the 36-year-old may be well past his prime, but is still producing at a pace most NHL players will never reach.

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Then along came Connor McDavid, drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015, and right in his prime. At age 27, he too sports the No. 97 for the year he was born.

Both generational talents. Both will leave their impact on the game long after they’ve hung up their skates. And having both on the same ice at the same time is a rare treat for hockey fans across the league.

It’s only happened 11 times before, with Crosby leading the head-to-head by a 6-4-1 margin, earning seven points (three goals, four assists) heading into Sunday’s game. McDavid, meanwhile, is 5-3-3 in those meetings with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists).

“It’s always exciting testing yourself against one of the best players to ever do it,” McDavid said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

The two wear the captain’s C for their respective teams, something Crosby has been doing since 2007, which makes him the longest-tenured captain in the league. Or to use another measuring stick, since McDavid was 10 years old.

McDavid leads the Oilers with 95 points (22 goals, 73 assists) in 56 games to sit third overall.

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Crosby leads the way for the Penguins and is tied for 21st overall with 63 points (32 goals, 31 assists) in 58 games.

“It’s amazing, but I’m not going to say it’s surprising,” McDavid said. “He’s an amazing player, loves the game and puts so much into it, it’s not surprising to see him still having an amazing season at 36 now.

“It’s impressive, but not surprising. No.”

While the Penguins currently find themselves 10 points out of a wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, there is no denying they put together a blueprint to success many teams have tried replicating throughout the Crosby era.

Of course, it helped having Crosby propped up by the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

And if their three Stanley Cups (2009, ’16 and ’17) are the end result, you can certainly count McDavid and the Oilers among the wannabes.

“I think it is a copycat league, obviously,” McDavid said. “But with that being said, every team and every organization is trying to figure out their own way to do it, to win.

“And obviously, we’re trying to figure that out here, much the same way as they did earlier on in their careers.”

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Of course, McDavid has Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse, as well as a strong supporting cast of his own characters in the Oilers dressing room. But the end goal has, so far, remained elusive.

“I can see the comparisons, obviously,” McDavid said. “But we’re our own group and we’re trying to find our own way to have that ultimate success.”

The Oilers overcame a sloppy 2-9-1 start to the season, but rebounded under new head coach Kris Knoblauch, sitting second in the Pacific Division following a 2-1 win over the Seattle Kraken on Saturday as they continue their push toward playoffs.

Knoblauch has crossed paths with Crosby and Co. in the past.

“I know about Crosby and how good he can be. I saw him in the regular season and obviously he’s a good player,” said Knoblauch, an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2017-19. “And I saw him in the playoffs against Philadelphia one year when I was on the bench and had a really big appreciation of how good of a player he is and how he elevated his game during that playoff series.

“And I saw it in a playoff series against New York (Rangers) also, where they were kind of in control, Crosby got hurt and New York came back and won that (2021) series. Obviously a really good player and he has the ability to step it up when there’s even more pressure.”

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And the Oilers head coach hasn’t lost any admiration for the Penguins captain since, either.

“This year, I think he’s probably going to have the second most goals in his career this season and being able to do it at his age, and he doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at all, I’m very impressed with what he’s done,” Knoblauch said. “Those elite players, obviously they’re very competitive, they want to be the best and they continue pushing themselves.

“Yes, they are born with a lot of talent, but (it’s) their work ethic and how much time and effort they put into their game. Even when they’re at their best, the endless amount of hours that they still continue working on their craft, they’re good but they always want to be better.

“That’s why they’ve had the careers that they’ve had.”


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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