In its 103-year history, the National Hockey League has seen some phenomenal players, and fans have been blessed enough to see these players join forces as linemates. Some of these lines have been branded with titles to make them even more memorable. Famous ones include the Buffalo Sabres “French Connection” of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert, or the Philadelphia Flyers’ “Legion of Doom” consisting of John LeClair, Eric Lindros, and Mikael Renberg.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have had the same luxury since they joined the league in 1967. We’ll run down some of the most notable Pens lines to take the ice.
An honorable mention should first be given to “The Firing Line.” Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal joined forces in the 2011-12 season and were the three top goal scorers for the Penguins. They produced 40% of the team’s goals that season.
The HBK Line
Who could forget the heroics of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel during the 2016 Stanley Cup run? All three were new additions to the team and combined for 20 goals and 56 points in the postseason. The name is made up of the first initial of each player’s last name, which matched that of WWE superstar Shawn Michaels’ nickname, the Heartbreak Kid.
The line gained much of its fame during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Capitals. Hagelin, Kessel, and Bonino were one, two, and three in team scoring, respectively. Bonino also scored one of the most memorable goals in recent Penguins history, with the overtime winner in the deciding game of that series. In the same game, Hagelin scored, while Kessel had a pair of goals.
The line became so iconic that the Penguins invited the Heartbreak Kid himself to a game, and, for a limited time, Pittsburgh’s Primanti Brothers created a sandwich with the same name, made with ham, bacon, and kielbasa.
The line may have faded after the 2016 postseason, and all three players departed from Pittsburgh before the turn of the decade, but the memories that they created will live on in Penguins’ lore.
The Century Line
The trio of Syl Apps Jr., Lowell MacDonald, and Jean Pronovost was given the moniker when they combined for over 100 goals and 200 points in four straight seasons. From 1972-73 to 1975-76, their scoring prowess helped the Penguins achieve a record above .500 for the first and second time in franchise history. They were a spark for an expansion team that was struggling to find success and popularity, not just in the NHL, but in its own city.
Also called the “Bicentennial Line,” thanks to those 200 point seasons, it was the first time the league began to take notice of the Penguins. Along with Apps, MacDonald, and Pronovost were other outstanding players like Ron Stackhouse, Dave Burrows, Rick Kehoe, and Pierre Larouche who had 111 points in the 1975-76 season.
After the first season of their iconic run in 1972-73, MacDonald was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy for his exceptional perseverance and sportsmanship. That season, he returned from a knee injury that forced him to miss most of the 1970-71 season and all of the 1971-72 season. He put up 34 goals and 75 points in 78 games.
The line may not have seen success in the form of a championship or scoring title, but it was important for the Penguins to gain momentum and popularity; the Century Line did just that.
Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr on a line together is bad enough for opposing teams, then add Kevin Stevens and it is a recipe for disaster. Their joint forces lead to the best season the Penguins had ever seen; a team that many players would say was the best they played for.
The name “Skyline” referred to the towering height of the three skaters. The average height of an NHL player today is 6-foot-1, Lemieux stood at 6-foot-4 while Stevens and Jagr were both 6-foot-3.
Add each player’s skill to the mix and the Skyline produced a combined 365 points in the 1992-93 season. Lemieux missed 24 games that season and still led the league in points with 160. Stevens also missed 12 games and was able to record 111 points. Jagr posted a then-career-high 94 points.
The Penguins, with the help of the Skyline, won the franchise’s only Presidents’ Trophy, finishing the season with a 56-21-7 record and 119 points. The three combined for 24 game-winning goals.
Ron Francis, Lemieux, Jagr
Swap out Stevens with Ron Francis and you have three of the top-10 point scorers in NHL history on the same line. No other team can say they’ve done that. This line didn’t have an official title but was sometimes called “The Great Line” and it is arguably the greatest line in team (or league) history.
At the start of the 1995-96 season, Lemieux was returning from back surgery that had kept him out for well over a season. While Jagr was coming off of an Art Ross season, he suggested that Lemieux move to the wing and let Francis step in at center. It worked tremendously for the three as they each put up over 110 points that season to lead the league; Lemieux led the league with 161 points, Jagr was second with 149 points, and Francis had a career-high 119 points, combined for a total of 429 points between the three of them.
Lemieux’s season ended with the Art Ross Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, and a Hart Trophy. He also reached the 50-goals-in-50-games mark for the third time in his career. His 69 goals and 92 assists were also tops in the league.
That season, the Penguins also featured Petr Nedved, who put up 99 points. The team made it to the Eastern Conference Final, losing to the “Rat Trick” Florida Panthers in seven games.
The league is different from the days of “The Production Line” from Detroit, or the “Punch Line” in Montreal, but having a trio of forwards who are able to build chemistry and become a force is a must on every team.
Related: Bobby Orr’s Landmark Seasons
The Penguins, over the years, have made a name for themselves for their spectacular combinations, and that hasn’t stopped with “Sid and his Kids,” a line with Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and another young forward. In the past, the young forward was Conor Sheary or Bryan Rust, but most recently, Dominik Simon has filled that spot. The combination usually becomes an immediate fan favorite in the city.
Nick Horwat is a graduate of Point Park University and was born and raised in Pittsburgh. A lifelong Penguins fan that has been watching and going to games for as long as he can remember.