Great hockey lines are named, not born. Skaters are thrown together, and if they accomplish something memorable, they eventually get a title. And it is the name—The Production Line of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel; The Kraut Line of Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart; The French Connection of Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert and Richard Martin—that becomes part of the sport's lexicon.
Right now the Los Angeles Kings are scratching their heads and trying to come up with a fitting appellation for the trio of Center Marcel Dionne, Right Wing Dave Taylor and Left Wing Charlie Simmer, which has been collecting goals in great regal bunches while leading L.A. to a 7-4-2 record. Through Sunday, Dionne (14 goals, 19 assists) stood first, Simmer (14,11) second and Taylor (9,14) third in the NHL scoring race, and as a line they had amassed an astounding 37 goals and 44 assists in the Kings' first 13 games. And while 13 games does not immortality make, since Jan. 13—the day Simmer was brought up from the minors to play with Dionne and Taylor—the threesome has scored at least one point in 51 straight regular-season games and at least one goal in 49 of the 51.
No wonder the Kings are sponsoring a name-the-line contest. Thus far they have received such offerings as "the Crown Jewels," "the Family Jewels" and "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." Dionne has agreed to be The Ugly. The L.A. press, citing a lack of offense from the Kings' other lines, has expressed a preference for "The Only Line." Somehow, What's My Line? seems as good as any.
Which leads to the next question: Who is Charlie Simmer? And don't reply that he and Dionne are the leading goal scorers in the NHL, because that's an aberration, not an answer. At his current pace he'd finish the season with 85, and the record is 76. Everyone knows about Dionne, the full-cheeked, round-bodied Littie Beaver whose record over the past eight seasons (327 goals, 464 assists, 791 points) trails that of Montreal's far more heralded Guy Lafleur (355-461-816) by a mere 25 points. And many fans are even aware of Taylor, who became an NCAA legend in 1976-77, his senior year at Clarkson, when he scored 108 points in only 28 games. Last season he had 43 goals for the Kings. But Charlie Simmer?
Simmer, who failed in earlier stints with the lowly and now-defunct California Seals and Cleveland Barons, was recalled from the minors when the Kings were beset with injuries. "When I came up, they told me I'd play regular until I won the job or lost it," says Simmer. "No pressure, right? So in my first game, Marcel goes crazy against Detroit—I barely touched the puck all night—but in the last minute I got an assist on his fourth goal. The next night in Boston, it was the Davy Taylor show. He stashed two goals and I got two assists. It went on from there."
Simmer scored at least one point in each of his first nine games, whereupon he finally moved his belongings to the land of Hang Ten Shampoo. "My first four goals either bounced in off my shin pads or I kicked them in," he recalls. "But I was scoring better here than I had been in the minors. I don't really know why. Dionne and Taylor, of course, were the main reasons. Maybe it was the adrenaline, the eating in good restaurants, the living in a good town, the better pay. I kind of wanted to stay."
During the last 38 games of the '78-'79 season, the Dionne-Simmer-Taylor line became the most productive in hockey, scoring 169 points. Dionne took the second-half scoring title, and Simmer had 21 goals and 27 assists. Over the summer the question around L.A. was whether Simmer's performance had been a fluke. "In the back of your head you remember all the guys who scored 50 goals and were never heard of again," he says. "There was a lot of, 'Well, sure, but anybody can play with Dionne.' Well, anybody's not playing with Dionne. I am."
In this season's first game, the Line With No Name picked up where it had left off. Simmer scored two goals and two assists in the Kings' 4-4 tie with Detroit, then had at least one goal in each of the next five games.
It simply is not true that "anybody can play with Dionne," and no one knows it better than L.A. Coach Bob Berry. "Management had never been able to find someone to play the left side with Marcel," he says. "First, Marcel has to respect you as a player or he won't give you the puck. They even tried me with him for a while a few years ago, but I never had the speed-or anticipation to play with him. I'd ask him, 'Where do you want me to go in their end?' Some centers like to tell you. Marcel said, 'Go wherever the hell you want and I'll find you.' "
One reason Taylor clicked so well with Dionne when they were paired in 1977-78, Taylor's rookie season, was that Dionne immediately respected him, perhaps because Taylor was not so much in awe of Dionne that he abandoned his own game. "You can give Davy the puck and he'll carry it," Dionne says. "He stopped me from having to do too many things. If I'm not playing with a good goal scorer, I'm trying to do it all myself."
Last week against Boston, Taylor came down the ice one-on-one against rookie Defenseman Brad McCrimmon. Knowing Taylor's game, Dionne headed for the net. As Taylor broke along the boards, McCrimmon grabbed his stick. Without breaking stride, Taylor reached down and twice pushed the puck ahead with his glove until he could get his stick free. As he slipped into the corner, Taylor passed the puck out front, where Dionne, in full stride, swept it past Yves Belanger.
Like Simmer, Taylor has been a considerable surprise to the Kings, having been drafted 210th in 1975. "He's so aggressive and he inspires the team, because you can't intimidate him," says Dionne. "People who say he scored 43 goals only because he played with me are wrong. He could do it with anybody."
Intimidation is something the 5'7½", 190-pound Dionne has long had to endure. At one point last season, following a brawl against Philadelphia, he talked about quitting the game. Not out of fear, mind you, but disgust. "I wasn't born to put a stick in another guy's face," he says. "Nobody minds getting hit hard, but somebody who tries to intimidate you with his stick in your face all night...why? It's kid stuff. Because a guy's skillful and a beautiful skater, why should you take him out of the game?"
Dionne, who wasn't named Beaver because of any special eagerness to labor diligently at both ends of the ice, but because Gordie Howe noted a likeness between Dionne and the little Indian in the Red Ryder comic strip, says, "People have always said, 'Dionne's just a one-way player.' Well, now that I'm with these guys, I can play some defense, too. What we have on our line is three honest hard workers." He suddenly begins to laugh. "But I'm probably the worst."
As a team, the Kings not only are scoring goals in heaps (60), but they are also leading the league in goals allowed (55). Last Thursday's 4-2 win over the Rangers was the first game all year in which they had held an opponent to fewer than three goals, and only once before that had they allowed fewer than four.
For now, no one in L.A. seems worried about the Kings' defensive shortcomings, at least not as long as the Line With No Name is hot. "We kid the guys about being The Only Line," Dionne says. "But hockey is a team game. You can't win with one line. So we named the rest of the guys The Other Line, Another Line and The End of the Line. It's in fun. I don't think they take the attention we're getting badly. One of my goals is to prove I'm a winner, as Lafleur has. There's nothing phony about what we're trying to do for the team."
Ah, The Party Line. Well, even if scouts once viewed the talents of Dionne's linemates as Border Line, there's nothing phony about what they've done in their first 51 games together.