Evolution of ‘Sid and the Kids’

Last fall, when the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first line started heating up, people started debating what to nickname them. After all, the 2016 playoffs had the HBK line; this line deserved a catchy moniker as well. The line, made up of Sidney Crosby and two players starting their first full seasons in the NHL, came to be dubbed “Sid and the Kids”.

Earlier this week, the “Sid and the Kids” line was back in the headlines when Crosby scored a natural hat trick, his younger linemates providing the second and first assists on each tally. However, this iteration of Crosby’s line is very different from the one the Penguins debuted in the fall.

Injuries and Call-ups

The original “Sid and the Kids” line was composed of Crosby, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust. Sheary and Rust both made their NHL debuts in December of 2015; September 2015 marked their first season debut in the major league. Though not quite rookies anymore, they were still relatively new to the lineup. Their line began to click going into the winter, with Sheary a speedy “mini-Crosby” and Rust the Patric Hornqvist-like disruptor at the net.

It’s clear that Sheary’s play has been influenced by Crosby. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

In total, the Sheary-Crosby-Rust line scored 15 goals together before injury tore them apart. Losing Sheary and Rust to injury in quick succession forced the Penguins to reshuffle their lineup.

When Sheary finally came back into the lineup after being out for over a month with an elbow injury, he rejoined a top line that was now made up of Crosby and rookie Jake Guentzel. This second iteration of “Sid and the Kids” was even younger than the first; Guentzel was 22 years old to Sheary and Rust’s 24, and he received his first call-up to the NHL just months ago.

The Sheary-Crosby-Guentzel line played together for about half the time the Sheary-Crosby-Rust version had, tallying a total of eight goals together before Guentzel was knocked out of the lineup with a concussion.

As has often happened in this second half of the season, the Penguins lines became composed of not who had chemistry together but simply who was healthy enough to play.

So now we’ve seen two versions of Sid and the Kids: one with Rust, and one with Guentzel. The Rust version played about 200 minutes together; the Guentzel version played half that. Which combination ended up being more successful for the Penguins?

Comparing the Kids

Starting with the numbers, we can focus on two key offensive stats: the percentage of time the team spends in the offensive zone when each line is on the ice, and the rate of goals they score per sixty minutes together.

In both of these situations, the Guentzel line wins out. That version of the “Kids” line spends over 4% more time in the offensive zone, as well as maintains a higher rate of goals per sixty minutes played. Because they also have a lower shooting percentage, this means that they get more scoring chances overall.

Percentage of time spent in the offensive zone Goals per sixty minutes
With Rust 64.50% 4.46
With Guentzel 68.70% 4.82

Stats from puckalytics.com

Jake Guentzel (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The two versions of the “Kids” line offer different styles of play. Guentzel is more of a scorer than Rust. He gets a lot of shots on net, with 68 shots in 35 games (1.94 shots per game) as opposed to Rust’s 89 shots in 50 (1.78 shots per game). In general, his style of play seems more similar to Crosby and

In general, his style of play seems more similar to Crosby and Sheary’s. He’s more likely to manoeuvre around to set up a passing play with his linemates, whereas Rust was more likely to go to the crease and cause a disturbance.

The differences in the two lines’ stats aren’t huge, but they are significant. Part of the difference has to do with Crosby’s play heating up with the second “Kids” line, but perhaps at least some of this increased success has to do with the differences between the two styles of play.

The Future Conflict

Rust rejoined practice today in a regular contact jersey. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If Rust and Guentzel are ever on the roster at the same time, it will be interesting to see who will be placed in that spot on the top line now that both have had their turns alongside Crosby and Sheary. It was looking like the conflict might come up very soon, with Rust shedding his no-contact jersey during practice. But now that Guentzel has been diagnosed with a concussion, that future is hazy once again. Someday, hopefully, the Penguins will have a healthy enough roster to get to make this decision. It will be an interesting one to watch when the time comes.