CRANBERRY TWP – Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist began practice Friday in a non-contact jersey but switched to the full contact black sweater. He was a full participant in the Penguins practice and could make his return to the lineup on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers at PPG Paints Arena.
Hornqvist, 31, suffered a concussion a week ago in the second period of a 2-1 overtime loss in Boston after absorbing a hit in the corner from Bostons defenseman Kevan Miller.
The Penguins were 2-1-0 without Hornqvist but are coming off a disappointing 6-3 loss at Colorado in their second road game in back-to-back nights.
Hornqvist’s first full-contact drill was on the Penguins top power-play drills. During line rushes, Hornqvist skated on Evgeni Malkin’s right wing–where he played before the injury–but that could also be a byproduct of Tanner Pearson’s absence which the Penguins termed a maintenance day.
“I was back out there and I felt good,” Hornqvist said. “It’s heading in the right direction.”
Hornqvist resumed skating several days ago, in Pittsburgh while the Penguins were in Winnipeg and Colorado on their recent two-game roadtrip.
“I was staying in shape and got a few pretty skates in and good workouts,” Hornqvist said. “I feel good.”
He has missed three games with the injury and the Penguins are 2-1-0 in his absence.
“It’s great to have him,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s such an energetic guy and he brings such enthusiasm to practice or to the rink every day and his energy is just contagious out there.”
This isn’t the first concussion in Hornqvist’s career, but he is not concerned of any lingering or long-term cumulative effects from head trauma.
“Not at all,” Hornqvist said. “I feel out of it for the first few days and then I come back right back at it. I’m not worried about that.”
As a player who also mucks it up in the low slot and is aggressive to the puck, he also knows he can’t play conservatively in an effort to shield himself from another head injury.
“I think for me or with everyone with a concussion, you’re either 100 percent or you’re not 100 percent,” Hornqvist said. “You can’t be like, ‘should I play the game or should I go into battle, ’you have to be all-in or you’re not in.”
Hornqvist was on a bit of a roll prior to the injury as he had scored four goals and eight points in his previous five games for an offense that was just beginning to come out of the doldrums of an early-season slump. Since a three-game winning streak through Western Canada last month, the Penguins were held to three goals or fewer in seven of their next eight games.
Hornqvist’s offensive outburst coincided with an increase in the Penguins output that carried over in his absence. Though the team, which is muddling through with additional injuries to center Matt Cullen and goaltender Matt Murray, is just 3-2-2 in its last seven, they are averaging 3.57 goals per game.
Malkin was held scoreless against both Winnipeg and Colorado, has two goals and an assist in his last five and has not had a multi-point game since Nov. 19 when he had a pair of assists against Buffalo. Putting Hornqvist on Malkin’s line could certainly be the jumpstart he needs to get himself going.
That is if Hornqvist is cleared to play against the Flyers.
“I thought he had a good practice,” Sullivan said. “The second half of the practice was full-contact and full participation, so we’ll see how he responds, but certainly it was encouraging.”