PITTSBURGH — Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist was downright defiant, Thursday night. After the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 with four power-play goals, Hornqvist was having none of the negativity which often follows losing your seventh of eight games.
“We were the better team five-on-five. And they know it,” said Hornqvist. “And we know it.”
The Penguins took nine minor penalties, Thursday. They gave the uber-talented Tampa Bay power-play seven opportunities, including three in the second period, after spotting them a nearly full two-minute five-on-three to begin the period. Read the postgame story here.
It’s tough to tout being the best team at even strength when so little of the game was played straight up. But Hornqvist was not only optimistic, but he was also strident the turnaround is coming.
“One shift is going to turn this season around for us. That’s going to happen here in Ottawa in two days,” he said in response to a question from Pittsburgh Hockey Now about players getting tight. He ended the media scrum with his head high and confident.
Whether it’s bravado or truth will be seen in Ottawa, Saturday. However, Hornqvist harkened back to darker times which the group overcame. Specifically, the tumultuous storm of November and December 2015.
“No chance,” Hornqvist said when PHN asked if they may begin to grip the sticks too tightly.
“We’ve been through this a lot. Half of the team was probably here three years ago when we had a coaching change, and we were not even in the playoff picture,” said Hornqvist. “Now, we’re in the playoff picture, and we have a good team and a good group.”
The Penguins have ten players who were there if you count then-rookies Daniel Sprong and Bryan Rust. That team came to a head with a closed-door airing of grievances on Nov. 17, 2015, under then head coach Mike Johnston.
Back then, the locker room nearly tore itself apart. Right now, the next negative word or breath will be the first. Even without Sidney Crosby and Derick Brassard, the Penguins did not fold, though they continue to struggle to find even strength goals, working line combinations, or a spark.
“When things don’t go your way, you have to bear down and make sure you get those thick details and don’t take those penalties,” the physical Swedish forward continued. “When things don’t go your way in life, you always seem to have these kinds of games (three quick penalties), but the only way out of this is to battle back, don’t feel bad about yourself, come to work tomorrow and try to get better.”
Hornqvist scored two goals, including the Penguins lone even strength goal and a power play tally. Both lit the lamp from Horqnvist’s favorite spot–within feet of the net. There has been no lack of battle or leadership from Hornqvist, even as the Penguins season has taken a decidedly sideways turn.
Perhaps Hornqvist is right. The big spark will come against the Uber-riding, head coach hating, hapless Ottawa Senators. But the win over Arizona was supposedly a statement win, too.
It won’t be one win which turns the Penguins fortunes around. It will be several wins. Or it will be GM Jim Rutherford’s hand which is forced. Perhaps the only thing for certain is that Patric Hornqvist will be one of the hands on deck trying to turn the ship around.