The Pittsburgh Penguins top line of Conor Sheary, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist was firing on all cylinders Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena, not just as a unit, but also as individuals.
All three players tallied a goal in Pittsburgh's 6-2 victory against the Dallas Stars, totaling seven points on the night.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the second period and Pittsburgh working on their first 5-on-3 advantage of the season, Hornqvist found an Evgeni Malkin rebound in the slot and backhanded through goaltender Antti Niemi's legs. The goal was Hornqvist's first since returning from a concussion, sixth on the season and fifth on the power play.
"It's just essential to have a good power play and to have that guy who is willing to go there, take a cross check, get in the goalie's eyes and create movement in the goal crease," head coach Mike Sullivan said of Hornqvist. "'Horny's' one of the best that I've seen. He's willing to go there, he plays with a lot of courage. I think he takes pride in it and he creates a lot of opportunities for those other guys who are out there and can make plays around him."
Not to be outdone, Crosby showed he can score from all angles. With under 30 seconds left in the second period, the captain took a pass from Sheary behind the net and ripped a bank shot from the goal line. Crosby was able to bat his own rebound out of midair, off the back of Niemi and into the net.
"Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't," Crosby said. "That one kind of laid up there, it was real slow. It was a good one to get."
Crosby's impressive tally was his 16th goal of the season, adding to his league lead. He also had two assists on the night, stretching his point total to 25 (16G-9A).
Sheary had a jump in his step all night. He and Hornqvist claimed the assists on the Crosby tally, but the left wing also added a goal of his own in the third period. At 16:22, Sheary took a beautiful pass from Crosby to launch a wrister past the outstretched right leg of Niemi for his second goal in as many games.
"I saw that we got possession and a bunch of guys started taking off, so I took off on the weak side and beat my guy up ice," Sheary said. "When 'Sid' got it, it was a clear 2-on-1 and made a great pass there."
This isn't the first time that Hornqvist, Crosby and Sheary have played together. The trio spent much of the 2016 playoffs as a line, and they're quickly reconnecting.
"We've been playing together now for a few games," Sheary said. "We're getting our chemistry back that we had last year, so I think it's just finding that again. We're playing well right now."
While the top line seems to be finding their stride, Crosby is looking for even more improvement.
"I think we're working hard," Crosby said. "I think we can execute a little better, but if everybody is out there competing and going hard to the net, we should get turnovers, we should get chances and we should expect that every game. I still think we can execute a little better and finish off some of our plays."
Despite the captain's critiques, Sullivan was impressed with the first line's performance.
"I thought the top line was really good," Sullivan said. "I thought they were dynamic, they used their speed, they were dangerous off the rush and they were on the puck in the offensive zone."