The question asked of Patric Hornqvist had nothing to do with his answer. The Pittsburgh Penguins are completing a nine-day break after playing 11 games in 20 days. They were exhausted and looked every bit like a team out of gas in their final game before the break, which was a 3-0 shutout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Hornqvist has previously made bold declarations in his short, but energetic media chats. In fact, Hornqvist treats the media like he does his regular shifts during a game. It’s brief. It’s full-out, energetic, and sometimes emotional. Then, it’s over in a flash.
Hornqvist has an internal timer. He generally speaks for about 90 seconds before his customary verbal kill switch, “thanks, guys.”
Thursday, after the rare late afternoon Penguins practice, Hornqvist was asked about the benefit of getting away. He brushed past the question to dive into what is really on his mind.
“When you come back, you appreciate what you’ve got. What an opportunity we have in front of us,” Hornqvist began. “We have a good team. You don’t have many chances to make something special, and this group is good.”
It was Hornqvist who first hinted the 2016 Penguins had something. With a darkening black eye from a physical game in Detroit, he did so on Dec. 31, 2015. He seethed with anger on March 1, 2016, after the Penguins blew a late lead to the Washington Capitals. The game launched the first “March of the Penguins,” as the Penguins reintroduced themselves to greatness.
Yes, I’ve felt the same thing about this group. You don’t need to be around it for more than a few seconds. If you’ve seen it before, it’s there. There’s no guarantee it will remain. And there’s less of a guarantee it will metastasize into the ultimate goal. The Penguins have the fourth-best record in the NHL, but four of the top five teams are in the Eastern Conference.
And three of the five top teams in the league are in the Metro Division, including the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders.
“We still have a long way to go, and I like where we are right now,” Hornqvist said. “We just keep getting better every day, and I like our chances.”
Bettors are also warming to the Pittsburgh Penguins chances. Recently, the Penguins were a 17-1 shot to win the Stanley Cup. Now, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, they are becoming a favorite at 11-1.
“We lost our two best players for a really long time, and we stilled played really good hockey,” he said.
Hornqvist was referring to the 13 games the Penguins played without Evgeni Malkin through most of October into November, and the 28 games the Penguins fought through without Sidney Crosby in the middle of their top line.
Hornqvist isn’t the only locker room resident to have the same special vibe.
“Yeah, I definitely think so. We’ve all been on teams–whether it’s my first year or not–that have been successful and teams that haven’t. Teams that have been successful always have something special about it,” rookie defenseman John Marino answered PHN’s query. “You definitely get a feel for that around here.”
The Penguins are 31-14-5. Just as they did last season, the Penguins lead the New York Islanders in the Metro Division but trail the Washington Capitals. Last season, the Penguins were healthy physically, but not as much mentally. Their game lacked structure, and their strides lacked purpose.
Things are much different this season. The team this season already has more double-digit goal scorers than the more talented crew from last year. And that’s just another reason to take note of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What an opportunity they have.