PITTSBURGH (AP)The Edmonton Oilers are running out of words to describe Connor McDavid. The Pittsburgh Penguins may be running out of time to salvage their season.
McDavid scored twice to push his total to a career-best 46 goals as the Oilers embarrassed Sidney Crosby and the Penguins 7-2 on Thursday night.
McDavid beat Tristan Jarry from in close in the first period and then used some dazzling stickwork to deke past backup Casey DeSmith on a penalty shot late in the third period. The 26-year-old added two assists to boost his point total to an NHL-best 109.
”I think it’s important that everybody takes a step back and understands that we’re seeing someone at the top of their craft in the prime of their career putting out there what he’s putting out,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. ”He does it day in and day out. He’s supported by a bunch of teammates that he loves to lead and that work hard for him. It’s quite impressive.”
Leon Draisaitl picked up 35th goal for the Oilers, who improved to 10-1-5 in their last 16 games. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a goal and an assist to reach 600 career points. Warren Foegele, Kailer Yamamoto and Devin Shore also scored. Stuart Skinner stopped 22 shots but was rarely tested for most of the first two periods.
”Really consistent up and down the lineup for pretty much 60 minutes,” Shore said. ”Played in their end more than we played in our end.”
Kris Letang scored early in the first and again late in the final minutes, but the Penguins were outclassed for long stretches in between. Jarry made 23 saves before being pulled after allowing six goals in two periods in his second start since returning from an upper-body injury that forced him to sit out a month.
”It’s frustrating right now,” Letang said after Pittsburgh’s fourth straight loss. ”We’re not playing the way we’re supposed to play. We get discouraged pretty quick and it’s something we shouldn’t have in this dressing room and it starts with the main guys like me, (Crosby) and (Evgeni Malkin).”
While there are still seven weeks to go in the regular season, the franchise’s run of 16 consecutive playoff berths – the longest active streak in major North American professional sports – is in jeopardy thanks to a condensed schedule, an older and top-heavy lineup and little wiggle room for general manager Ron Hextall to maneuver.
The fans at PPG Paints Arena that arrived to watch a showdown between Crosby and McDavid were instead treated to a glimpse at the widening gap between the Penguins and the NHL’s elite.
Edmonton did whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted for most of the game in the kind of clinic Pittsburgh used to put on with regularity for the better part of two decades.
Those days appear over. The Oilers, led by their superstar who is a heavy favorite to win his third Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, have the firepower that once came so easily to Crosby and the Penguins.
McDavid set a personal best for goals in a season when he roofed a shot from in tight over a crouching Jarry 13:18 into the first. Draisaitl put the Oilers in front later in the period when he banged home a rebound on the power play.
Edmonton was just getting started. The Oilers tacked on four goals in the second against a shaky Jarry, who is still searching for the form he showcased during the first two-plus months of the season before enduring multiple injuries.
Pittsburgh mustered little response, mostly because the Penguins spent most of the night chasing the younger, faster Oilers. After McDavid spun Letang around to set up Nugent-Hopkins’ 28th goal with 1:06 to go in the second, chants of ”Fire Hextall” began as Hextall sat stoically in a coach’s box just above press row.
”I think it was a tough night for everybody and we don’t like putting on a performance like that in front of them and they pay their ticket and they want to see better, I understand that,” Crosby said. ”It wasn’t a great night for everyone.”
Oilers: Visit Columbus on Saturday.
Penguins: Travel to St. Louis on Saturday.
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