It might not be shocking if Florida Panthers winger Patric Hornqvist plays one of his best games of the season on Thursday night and casts a permanent shadow on Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. The Crazy Viking will face the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time since the team traded him in the 2020 offseason.
You remember Hornqvist, don’t you?
The guy who scored the 2017 Stanley Cup-winning goal. The energizer bunny infuriated opponents and raptured teammates with his energy, his willingness to take a beating and give a beating in front of the opponent’s net.
And the player who was a wee bit salty after former Penguins GM Jim Rutherford dished him to Florida for struggling defenseman Mike Matheson.
“Pittsburgh didn’t want me,” was part of Hornqvist’s stern reply after the deal.
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The COVID season prevented the Pittsburgh Penguins from facing the Florida Panthers last season. This won’t be at PPG Paints Arena where a sappy, emotional tribute might soften up the player we admiringly called the Crazy Viking.
“I’m not living in the past,” Hornqvist said as he turned aside a question of sentimentality towards his Cup-mates.
No, this will be a war in front of the Penguins net and the suddenly re-energized Florida Panthers crowd.
Florida is a Stanley Cup contender. They have emerging star goalie Spencer Knight battling very well-paid goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. They just paid Sasha Barkov in multiple Brinks trucks over eight years. And that Stanley Cup is within reach this season.
God help the Penguins defensemen tonight.
”… It’s always fun to play against your old team, your teammates, and friends. It’ll be fun,” Hornqvist said. “Last year, with the Covid situation and no fans, yeah, it feels longer than a year. It feels like a long time ago I was in Pittsburgh.”
Those sentences are probably true. Hornqvist doesn’t strike anyone as the type who wistfully reaches back into the past for comfort or comparison.
But does anyone want to bet against Hornqvist having his adrenaline turned up to 12 (it’s usually at 11, anyway)?
” Obviously when you get traded, there’s a little shock and you get emotional,” Hornqvist said. “…I had a no-trade so I didn’t think they would trade me. But I’m not living in the past, I’m living in the right-now. Good things have happened for me and for Pittsburgh. I’m happy to be here and happy to be playing them.”
Thursday night, Hornqvist, 34, will skate on his customary third-line RW with Anton Lundell and Frank Vatrano; it is a potent third line with some offensive pop.
Hornqvist helped to re-energize the Panthers franchise on the ice. New GM Bill Zito and AGM Brett Peterson (formerly of the Johnston Chiefs blue line), have rebuilt the Panthers from a soft also-ran into a rival for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I thought he had an immediate impact on the team. In the room, on the ice and in the gym,” Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “He brings that intensity that is noticeable. He contests teammates in the right fashion. I thought that accountability between player-to-player was something that was appreciated from a coaching perspective. It helped out team grow.”
The Panthers-Lightning rivalry has become so fierce, so quickly, that it led to a preseason brawl when the teams played at a neutral site in Orlando.
Would the old Panthers do that?
Last season, Hornqvist played in 44 of the 56 games and scored a rock-solid 32 points (14-18-32). He had five points in six playoff games as Florida took Tampa Bay to the mat, but was just short.
Hornqvist is in the fourth year of his five-year, $26.5 million deal–the one the Penguins had to beg out of due to other salary cap concerns.
The Penguins primary acquisition for Hornqvist was defenseman Mike Matheson, who had a splendid season last year. Matheson helped the Penguins’ blue line go from a low-scoring, maligned unit to one of the top-scoring and effective units in the NHL.
One cannot say the Penguins lost the trade. However, Matheson will not play on Thursday night as the defenseman is still out day-to-day.
Instead, Mark Friedman, who has a bit of snarl in his game, figures to be one of those tasked with trying to move Hornqvist. Rookie P.O. Joseph is also with the team, but asking his 185-pounds to move Hornqvist might also require wild horses.
And that probably wouldn’t be enough, either.
It will be fun. Probably more fun to watch from afar than to try to move Hornqvist.