Each Pittsburgh Penguins Star's Best Highlight in 2013-14 so Far
As the top team in the Eastern Conference and riding a seven-game winning streak, the Pittsburgh Penguins are right where they had hoped to be when the season began.
Despite having to endure the recent loss of all of their top-four defensemen and five-game suspensions for both James Neal and Deryk Engelland, the Pens have been able to weather the storm and are poised to put even more daylight between themselves and the rest of the division.
With the Pens riding high and in the spirit of Christmas, let's take a look at the best highlights for each of the Pens' top stars so far this season.
Sidney Crosby's Overtime Clincher
While Sidney Crosby has always had a reputation as a great goal scorer, it is his willingness to do the little things coupled with his amazing will to win that has made him the best player in the world.
Although no single highlight can fully capture how complete of a player he is, Crosby's overtime game-winning goal against the Islanders in the Nassau Coliseum on December 3 comes as close as any.
After backchecking deep into his own zone, Crosby picked up a lost puck at center ice and passed it ahead to James Neal, who fired it wide of the net.
As the Islanders turned up ice, Crosby, not giving up on the play, stole the puck from Thomas Vanek, skated in on net and stick-handled between the two defensemen before lifting a backhand shot just past goaltender Anders Nilsson to win the game.
Chris Kunitz Keeps It Simple
En route to being swept by the Boston Bruins in last season's Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins often seemed either unwilling or unable to get to the front of the net and could only manage four goals in as many games.
This season, in their first trip back to Boston, the Pens took advantage of their opportunity to show the Bruins and the rest of the NHL that they weren't the same finesse team they seemed to be last season.
Playing with the man advantage, Sidney Crosby carried the puck into the zone before sliding the puck to Chris Kunitz, who carried it into the slot before throwing the puck to the goal in the hopes of setting up Crosby as he drove the net.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, the puck deflected off of Zdeno Chara's skate and into the goal for an early Pens lead.
While bad-bounce goals are rarely considered highlights, the patience and the simple play rather than the pretty play exemplifies the success Kunitz has had this season, as he is tied for the team lead in goals (20) and is third in points (39).
Kris Letang Stands His Ground
Having been roughed up and knocked off his game by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final, many wondered how Kris Letang would respond this season and if he was capable of showing the toughness expected of a Norris Trophy candidate.
On November 9 in St. Louis, Pens fans got their answer when Letang stepped up at the blue line and sent a message to the Blues and the rest of the NHL.
As T.J. Oshie of the Blues skated the puck through the center and attempted to swing wide, Letang, instead of trying to force a turnover through finesse, sent Oshie into the boards with a clean and flawless hip check.
Although his ability and desire to play physical has been questioned in the past, against the Blues, Letang left no doubt that he was willing and able to dish out hits as well as he dishes out assists.
Having been benched for the majority of the Penguins' playoff run last season and enduring trade rumors and speculation as to his future in Pittsburgh, many wondered how Marc-Andre Fleury would respond, especially early in the season.
On opening night, Fleury answered his critics with a 3-0 shutout over the New Jersey Devils and, midway through the third period, gave Pens fans the first highlight of the 2013-14 season.
As the Devils tried to make a late push to get back in the game, Travis Zajac wristed a shot off the goal post, which appeared headed for the net until Fleury reached behind his back with his glove hand and made the miraculous save.
With the home crowd once again chanting his name after having cheered his benching against the New York Islanders in the playoffs last season, Fleury has been outstanding in net ever since and is on pace to set career highs in save percentage (.923) and goals against per game (2.03) and it all started on opening night with a highlight save.
Evgeni Malkin's Assist for the Ages
While Evgeni Malkin has entertained Penguins fans with numerous highlight goals during his stellar career, his greatest highlight so far in the 2013-14 season didn't result in a goal, at least not for him.
On November 23, with the Pens trailing to the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 with just minutes to play, Malkin decided to take matters into his own hands.
Picking up the puck behind the Pens' net, Malkin accelerated up ice through the neutral zone and lowered his shoulder to drive to the net before making a blind backhanded pass to James Neal, who slipped it past goaltender Carey Price to cut the lead in half before going hard into the boards
Although the Canadiens held on to win the game, Malkin's amazing end-to-end rush exemplifies his incredible skill and willingness to sacrifice himself even though the game seemed out of reach.