As a unique NHL season winds to a close, the Penguins find themselves in a good position. They’re (relatively) healthy, forgiving some last-minute setbacks; they’re at the top of the division; and they have real hopes of making a postseason run.
If we’d told you this would happen back in January, would you have believed it?
In the early days of the 2020-21 campaign, the Penguins seemed to be winning games by what felt like sheer luck. Through five games from Jan. 17 to Jan. 19, they earned nine of 10 possible points; they also only held a lead for 25 minutes of those five games. Three were won in extra time. For a while, it seemed their only method to victory was a last-minute comeback.
But the strange season— the compressed schedule, the rampant injuries, the determined call-ups and the improbable comebacks— has led to gorgeous hockey and highlight-reel points off the sticks of everyone from the superstars to the AHLers. Here’s an assortment of 10 of the Penguins’ most memorable goals of the season.
Crosby bats Carter Hart’s clear out of mid-air (Jan. 13, 2021, @ Philadelphia)
Not every player has entire highlight-reel compilation videos exclusively of them scoring from mid-air, but then again, not every player is Sidney Crosby. So perhaps Flyers goaltender Carter Hart shouldn’t have been surprised when Crosby snagged his clear attempt out of the air and tapped a casual backhand into the net— after all, the Penguins captain makes it look pretty easy.
Sidney Crosby's hand-eye is still perfect. #NHLFaceOff pic.twitter.com/DuNmhyghuU— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) January 13, 2021
Teddy Blueger copies Jake Guentzel’s shootout goal two days later (Jan. 19, 2021, vs. Washington)
You can hardly blame Ilya Samsonov for falling for Jake Guentzel’s fake in the shootout in Pittsburgh on Jan. 17. After all, the Penguins winger fully committed to the bit from a head fake to a motorcycle kick to get Samsonov to open up the pads so that he could slide the puck gently between them.
Two days later, with Penguins trailing against the visiting Capitals and down on a 5-on-3 disadvantage, Blueger scored a deja-vu goal. He finished off a breakaway caused by an alley-oop lead pass from goaltender Casey DeSmith by following Guentzel’s example in faking to the right and sliding the puck through the open five-hole.
P.O. Joseph shows off his shot with his first NHL goal (Feb. 6, 2021 @ New York Islanders)
Joseph impressed the Penguins in his first few NHL games, especially with three assists in a road win against the Rangers on Jan. 30.
But it was against the Islanders that he reached a career milestone on Feb. 6. When Guentzel dropped a pass to Joseph as he streaked up the left side, the defenseman didn’t hesitate; he beat the glove of Semyon Varlamov by wristing a shot to the top right corner for the first goal of his NHL career.
Kapanen drops a no-look pass to Malkin (March 11, 2021 vs. Buffalo)
It was one of those moments where you caught a glimpse of how well Kapanen and Malkin might gel on a line together. Kapanen kept his gaze fixed on the Sabres’ goaltender for the entire breakaway— right until he dropped the puck to a trailing Malkin, who had apparently been looking at the eyes in the back of Kapanen’s head, because he scored like he’d been expecting the pass.
Guentzel’s mid-air deflection tips in Crosby’s shot (March 20, 2021 @ New Jersey)
In the kind of simple goal where you have to watch it back a few times before you catch the skill involved, Crosby batted at a bouncing puck to keep it in at the blue line and then aimed a hard shot— not at the net, but at the stick of Guentzel, whose hand-eye coordination was good enough to get the shaft of his stick on the puck and send it careening into the net.
Radim Zohorna scores in his first NHL period (March 25, 2021 vs. Buffalo)
Zohorna was easy to notice the moment he stepped on the ice for warmups— after all, the Czech rookie towers over the rest of the Penguins’ roster at 6’6”. But he made himself even more memorable just 17 minutes into his NHL debut against the Sabres, when he scored with a one-timer so smooth it appeared to happen in slow-motion.
Matheson auditions to be a forward (April 1, 2021 @ Boston)
In the kind of goal that would make you swear Matheson’s roster designation was just a mix-up between the letters “D” and “F”, the blueliner grabbed the puck in the defensive zone to skate it up the right side in what looks like an innocent zone clear— until he suddenly put on a burst of speed that stunned the Bruins defense, allowing him to drag the puck through the slot and deke around the goaltender to finish off a nearly 200-foot effort.
Rodrigues finishes off slick passing play (April 8, 2021 @ New York Rangers)
The Penguins kept possession of this puck from the face-off until the moment it hit twine. Jason Zucker skated up the left side and dished to Radim Zohorna at the side of the net, who dragged the puck back before putting it on the stick of Evan Rodrigues in one of the Penguins’ best tic-tac-toe plays of the season.
Crosby scores with replacement stick (April 15, 2021 @ Philadelphia)
In what might be the most memorable Penguins goal of 2020-21, Crosby passed his stick to an empty-handed Brian Dumoulin in the defensive zone.
Give him the assist pic.twitter.com/2Z6jAjcwIa— geoff (@geoffwithano) April 16, 2021
When the rush turned the other way, Crosby skated by the bench, grabbed a new stick from Penguins equipment manager Jon Taglianetti without breaking stride, and stormed into the slot to score on a Kris Letang rebound.
Bryan Rust scores unassisted (May 1, 2021 @ Washington Capitals)
Steve Mears’ “Are you kidding me?” reaction to this goal pretty much sums it up. Rust blocks a shot and turns it into a breakaway by beating Dmitry Orlov to the puck. Without breaking stride, he goes from backhand to forehand and tucks the puck around an outstretched pad for his second goal of the game. It doesn’t get much more unassisted than that.
Which goals would you add to the list?