He scored 15 goals in his first 35 games last season. At age 31, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist was on pace for the best goal total of his career, but a pair of mid-season concussions including one from a seemingly benign fluttering puck derailed his season. Statistically, Hornqvist slumped for the remainder of the season, and the ever-present eye test showed he didn’t return to his game until March.
“I’m not (worried). I had that slump for a long time. It’s hard to get out of those when you get in those, and you feel like you’re doing the right things,” Hornqvist said on locker cleanout day in April. “The puck doesn’t want to go in, and you get frustrated. That’s probably the worst thing you can do, but I learned a lot from this season.”
“Regroup and go,” he concluded.
The Penguins and Penguins fans hope so. The fear which surfaced after Penguins GM Jim Rutherford awarded Hornqvist a five-year deal with a $5.3 million annual cap hit which began last season, resurfaced with a vengeance.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Hornqvist and the Penguins.
Believe it or not, Hornqvist played only 125 minutes at even strength with Sidney Crosby. Only 131 minutes with Evgeni Malkin. So Hornqvist spent the bulk of his even strength minutes with the third line centers which last season included Derrick Brassard, Jared McCann and finally Nick Bjugstad.
Overall, Hornqvist failed to score at least 20-goals in a full NHL season for the first time in his career. In eight straight full NHL seasons, Hornqvist tallied at least 20 and hit the 30-goal mark once. Only the lockout-shortened 2012-13 interrupted his streak. In 69 games last season, he scored 37 points (18g, 19a). Since 15 of those goals came in the first 35 games, that means he scored only three goals in the final 34.
Patric Hornqvist Predictors
In the second half of last season, Hornqvist may not have filled the net at 5v5 as he is handsomely paid to do but the underlying statistics when coaches paired him with Bjugstad, whom the Penguins acquired on Feb. 1, were impressive.
With Bjugstad, the line had a 57% Corsi and scored eight strength goals but only allowed three in 218 minutes together. The offensive total is a little low, but the defensive total is indicative of the suffocating pressure the line created. They had a 57% Corsi. When head coach Mike Sullivan added Dominik Simon to the mix, the line had a 61% puck possession rate. Stats according to NaturalStatTrick.com
Throughout March, PHN continually graded the Penguins third line with Bjugstad and Hornqvist as A or A+ performers for their work, including this feature piece “Penguins Third Line, Bjusgstad-Hornqvist Having Fun and Dominating.”
As the end sunk in, and the players in the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room picked up the pieces and dealt with a Round One sweep by the New York Islanders, it was Hornqvist who bolted from his locker stall to lock arms with Bjugstad and pound his chest for a job well done. The pair had developed a dynamic line down the stretch, even if Hornqvist was gripping his stick so tightly his white knuckles were visible through his mitts.
Patric Hornqvist slumped. The concussions got him off his game and the second which occurred with a fluttering puck which not no velocity, may have unnerved Hornqvist for a spell. Those are guesses as Hornqvist has not admitted to either, only that he slumped, became frustrated and things spiraled.
Entering the season healthy, with a renewed commitment from Malkin and the existing chemistry with Bjugstad, Hornqvist should quickly return to 20+ goal form. There were no signs of losing a step or his game altered due to age. It was a horrific, horrible cold streak.
It won’t buy a cup of coffee, but with a little rest and health, Hornqvist was a dominant force in the 2019 IIHF World Championships. He scored 10 points (7g, 3a) and was a +11 in eight games. It has no bearing on the NHL, but the breakout probably helped take away a little of the sour taste from his disappointing season.
Hornqvist will remain part of the Pittsburgh Penguins top power-play unit and could see top-six ice time.
22 goals. 35 assists. Positive plus/minus. Relentless forecheck. And he will again be a total pain in the opponent’s arse.