Patric Hornqvist hasn’t scored an even strength goal since the floor still wreaked of spilled champagne and New Year’s resolutions were still intact. Not since Jan. 5 has the Pittsburgh Penguins emotional right winger lit the lamp with a 5v5 goal. It’s been a long time for Hornqvist, but it’s coming.
Hornqvist is doing everything right.
“It’s more about the process. We can talk about scoring goals all we want,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “I think we’ve got focus on playing the game the right way and goals will be scored.”
Hornqvist was especially intense Friday night against Nashville. As has become typical, his line with Nick Bjugstad thoroughly dominated their competition even when it included the opponent’s top line. The “third” line created scoring chances for the Penguins and suppressed the opposing chances.
But still no goal for Hornqvist.
Hornqvist was so disruptive for the Penguins power play, Nashville adjusted: They stopped covering Hornqvist in front of the net.
Nashville chose to pressure the point and Phil Kessel on the mid-wall which exposed their goalie to Hornqvist rather than occupy the one and two defenders necessary to deal with him. The process worked as the Penguins power play was held scoreless after notching seven shots on their first attempt.
Hornqvist led all player with six shots, including four shots from the doorstep on the power play. His shot chart from NaturalStatTrick is something the Penguins should hope for every night.
The two shots from the right wing circle are the even strength shots. Unlike the Penguins other struggling-to-score-goals right winger Phil Kessel, Hornqvist is unloading in the right areas and playing a disruptive game.
Center Nick Bjugstad has dished frequent praise on Hornqvist’s forecheck which has pinned opponents in the defensive zone and established the Penguins in the offensive zone.
But still no goals for the crazy Viking who takes a beating in front of the net and smiles.
“If all we do is focus on, ‘I gotta score, I gotta score, I gotta score’ then all of a sudden, we’re not playing the game the right way,” Sullivan said.
How good was the line on Friday? The other three Penguins lines had Corsi ratings (percentage of shots + shot attempts for and against) which ranged from 27 percent to 34 percent. Those numbers mean they were playing in the defensive zone.
The Penguins Simon-Bjugstad-Hornqvist line had a 75 percent Corsi rating.
More importantly, when they were on the ice they had 66 percent of the scoring chances. They had a 71 percent scoring chance ratio against New York on Tuesday. The line had a rough night last Saturday against Dallas when they posted only a 63 percent Corsi and 50 percent of the scoring chances.
Rebound chances are the one thing missing from the line and the Penguins overall attack. The Hornqvist line has just one rebound attempt in the last three games. (All stats from NaturalStatTrick.com)
The lack of rebounds has been a consistent theme for the Penguins. It is in part luck but also part style.
“We have to do a better job taking away the goalies eyes,” Bjugstad said Saturday. The Penguins have dominated the puck, scoring chances but they haven’t necessarily created enough traffic nor have they been able to utilize the low-to-high game fully.
The Penguins defensemen without Kris Letang are not the most offensively gifted crew in the league. Since the Penguins defensemen are not a threat to score, teams can cheat a little bit, which makes Hornqvist’s job even tougher.
Unless Hornqvist scores 10 points in the next four games, he will finish the regular season with the lowest point total of his career. He currently has only 33 points (17g, 16a) and his previous low in a full NHL season was 43 points in 2011-12. Hornqvist has also never failed to score at least 20 goals in an full NHL season (he played 28 games in 2008-09 which was his rookie year. We’re excluding that, too) and Hornqvist is in danger of breaking that string of eight straight seasons, also.
The eyes show it. The underlying numbers scream it. History supports it. The Patric Hornqvist breakout is coming. Probably.