10 Best Lines in Pittsburgh Penguins History

Brandon Burnett@B_Burnett49Contributor IIIDecember 19, 2012

10 Best Lines in Pittsburgh Penguins History

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    Some of the best players in NHL history have shared the ice while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins

    Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis, two members of the Hockey Hall of Fame and one (Jagr) who will get there soon enough, combined to form what was sometimes referred to as "The Great Line." During the 1995-96 season, all three superstars eclipsed the 100-point mark, and both Lemieux and Jagr scored more than 60 goals. 

    They were a forced to be reckoned with, those three. 

    But it was hardly the only deadly combination of forwards formed in Pittsburgh throughout the franchise's history. Some pretty impressive defensemen have played for the Penguins too. 

    Let's take a look at the best forward combinations and defensive pairings in Pittsburgh Penguins history. 

Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz

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    Known as the "The Firing Line," Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz currently make up what is arguably the most dangerous group of forwards in the NHL. 

    Neal's first full season in Pittsburgh quickly became a smashing success. The 25-year-old set career marks in nearly every category imaginable, finishing 2011-12 with 40 goals and 82 points. 

    Malkin is no stranger to 100-point seasons, but never before Neal joined him on the top line had he eclipsed the 50-goal mark. Both Malkin and Neal finished inside the top five in the NHL in goals scored. 

    Even Kunitz, more of a grinder than a pure scorer, finished with a career-high 26 goals and 61 points. 

Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Stevens

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    Replace Ron Francis with Kevin Stevens, and you've got what was widely known as "The Sky Line."

    Honestly, any line featuring the duo of Lemieux and Jagr was destined for success, but Stevens helped them do some serious damage in the early 1990's.

    During the 1992-93 season, the three forwards combined for a whopping 365 points. Super Mario led the charge with 69 goals and 160 points in all, while Stevens chipped in a career-high 55 goals.

    What's most amazing is that Stevens missed 10 games that year, and Lemieux 22 games.  

    Jagr's best seasons came later in his career, but "Mario Jr." still found the net 34 times and finished with 94 points over 81 games. 

John Cullen, Mark Recchi and Kevin Stevens

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    Here's a line with an interesting nickname. 

    Known as "The Option Line" because all three players were in the final year of their contracts, John Cullen, Mark Recchi and Kevin Stevens tore up the NHL during the 1990-91 season. 

    Recchi and Stevens each finished the year with 40 goals. Cullen, who didn't end the year in Pittsburgh after being traded to Carolina, produced 94 points in just 65 games. 

    This grouping obviously takes a backseat to any line featuring Lemieux and Jagr, but they were, by all means, a nightmare for opponents to deal with during their short time together. 

Syl Apps, Jr., Lowell MacDonald and Jean Pronovost

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    We'll have to go back a ways for this one, but "The Century Line" was a dominant force throughout the early to mid-1970's. 

    Centered by Syl Apps, Jr. with Lowell MacDonald and Jean Pronovost flanked on the outside, this grouping didn't experience as much success in the form of wins as the great Penguins lines of the early 90s, but they were not to be taken lightly. 

    Their best season together came in 1973-74, when Pronovost and MacDonald each tickled the twine more than 40 times apiece and Apps Jr. came through with 61 assists. 

Alexei Kovalev, Robert Lang and Martin Straka

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    "The KLS Line" played a big part in leading the charge for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the late 1990's and early 2000's. 

    Alexei Kovalev, Robert Lang and Martin Straka were their names. And yes, scoring was their game.

    The trio enjoyed a fine campaign in 2000-01. Kovalev and Straka finished with 95 points apiece, and Lang with 80. The Penguins front office was so fond of this line they were willing to part ways with Jagr in order to keep the trio together. 

    As is the case with most lines, they didn't stick together for long. But they were surely a productive bunch when they did share the ice. 

Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis

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    We've already discussed this line, and what a fine line it was. 

    Jagr enjoyed the best season of his career when skating with Lemieux and Francis in 1995-96, breaking the 60-goal mark in addition to posting 87 assists. Both Lemieux and Francis finished with 92 assists. 

    The trio only stayed together for parts of two seasons, which is a shame, but you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better combination of forwards than this. 

Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy

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    Moving on to defense, it seems only fitting to start with Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy. 

    It's amazing to think that two of the best scoring defensemen the NHL has ever seen did their damage together at a point in their careers, even if it was short-lived. 

    Coffey and Murphy never even played a full season together, but they were key contributors during the team's back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1991 and 1992. 

    Murphy came over from Minnesota in 1990-91 via trade to finish the year in Pittsburgh. He pitched in 28 points in 44 games during the regular season, but more impressively, totaled 23 points in 23 playoff games during the Cup run that year. Coffey, the scoring machine that he was, tallied 93 points in 76 regular season games. 

Dave Burrows and Ron Stackhouse

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    Dave Burrows is one of the top defensemen in NHL history, and Ron Stackhouse isn't that far behind him. 

    Burrows was an expert shot blocker and one of the smoothest skaters of his era. Unfortunately, a lack of offensive production has caused him to go relatively unnoticed in hockey history. But Burrows was one of the best, if not the best defensive defenseman ever to play the game. 

    Isn't that what D-men are supposed to be? Apparently not so much anymore. 

    Stackhouse had the offensive prowess, logging 60 points in 1974-75 and a career-high 71 in 1975-76. He scored a combined 26 goals during those years, while Burrows scored just 29 in his 724-game NHL career. 

Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar

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    Perhaps Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar made for a great pairing of defensemen because the two had completely different playing styles. 

    Gonchar was the finesse, offensively skilled D-man, whereas Orpik preferred (and still does) to make his presence known physically. 

    Orpik is indeed the perfect partner for someone who thrives offensively, as Gonchar did, and still does. Gonchar posted back-to-back seasons of 65 points or more from 2006-08, but Pens fans will never forget his presence in the team's 2009 Cup run. 

    After already missing most of the regular season with a shoulder injury, Gonchar suffered a nasty knee injury in the conference semifinals against Washington. Miraculously, he returned and played in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a partially-torn MCL and helped Pittsburgh win the Cup over Detroit

Mario Faubert and Randy Carlyle

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    Most know Randy Carlyle as a head coach, but Pens fans remember him to be one hell of a defenseman during his playing days. 

    In fact, Carlyle remains the only Penguin to have ever won the Norris Trophy. He won the award in 1980-81, a season in which Carlyle scored 16 goals and finished with 83 points. 

    Mario Faubert spent that year in Pittsburgh, sadly his only full season in the NHL. Faubert scored 52 points in 74 games and wasted no time joining the ranks of great Pens D-men. Unfortunately, on Nov. 18, 1981, he suffered a career-ending leg injury in a game against St. Louis.

    Check out this old video as Faubert rips a goal while falling down on the ice.