Hornqvist likes to be in thick of things in front of the net
January 8, 2016 12:00 AM
Patric Hornqvist is stopped by Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in the first period at the Consol Energy Center Wednesday night.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist endured a stretch earlier this season in which he failed to record a point in six consecutive games.
Went through two others when he didn’t get a goal or assist for five in a row, as well.
Nonetheless, Hornqvist says he never considered modifying his job description, possibly spending a bit less time in areas around opposing teams’ nets, where sticks and elbows are high. Even when he’s getting nothing but welts to show for his trouble, Hornqvist has no interest in changing how he goes about his work.
“Then I’m out of this league,” he said, smiling. “I’d rather go there instead.”
Hornqvist is on the long list of Penguins forwards whose offensive production has not met expectations this season.
He is their No. 6 scorer, with eight goals and eight assists in 40 games; in 2014-15, his first with the Penguins after being acquired from Nashville in the James Neal trade in 2014, he had 25 goals and 26 assists in 64 games.
Hornqvist, like most of his teammates, failed to collect a point in the Penguins losses to Chicago Tuesday and Wednesday, but had put up six in the previous half-dozen games.
“I’m getting some bounces, and I’ve got some confidence and all that,” he said. “I didn’t play well before, but I’ve started to find my game and, hopefully, I can keep building, keep producing and help the team like that.”
Hornqvist is one of several players whose personal stats have improved significantly since Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach Dec. 12.
His ice time is roughly the same — he averaged 15:44 under Johnston, and now stands at 15:53 for the season — but has been getting the puck on goal a lot more since the coaching change. He had 71 shots in 28 games under Johnston, an average of 2.5. Since Sullivan took over, Hornqvist has 54 in 12 games, an average of 4.5.
What isn’t different is Hornqvist’s enthusiasm for his job.
“He’s a hard guy not to love,” Sullivan said recently. “He’s a passionate guy. He wears his emotions right on his sleeve. He brings a ton of energy on the bench. I think it’s infectious for our group.
“He loves hockey and he loves to win. He doesn’t hide his enthusiasm when we have success, that’s for sure.”
Sullivan has been using Hornqvist, who has logged a lot of time on the first and second lines this season, on the No. 3 unit of late. Hornqvist said he doesn’t take that assignment as criticism of his performance, and that there are some basic guidelines for the role he is filling now.
“Just play hard, don’t turn the puck over that much,” he said. “No turnovers and make smart plays.”
Not a bad approach for any player on any line, actually.
But, even if his duties are tweaked when he moves up and down the depth chart, Hornqvist’s basic place of business doesn’t vary. That’s true even though he acknowledges that hanging out in the high-traffic areas is a lot more fun when there is a tangible payoff for the punishment he absorbs.
“I don’t know about points, but you want opportunities in front of the net,” he said. “You want to find those loose pucks.
“Sometimes, it feels so hard to find them. Other nights, they just hit you. The more time you spend there, the more goals you’re going to score.”
Which is the real reason Hornqvist wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
NOTE — The Penguins Thursday call up forwards Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust from their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. To make room on the roster, forwards Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson have been re-assigned there. Kuhnhackl, 23, is in line to make his NHL debut Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens if he cracks the lineup. He is a 6-foot-2, 196-pound winger who started the season injured. Rust was scoreless in five games with the Penguins earlier this season, then missed 15 games with an undisclosed injury.
Jenn Menendez contributed to this report. Dave Molinari: email@example.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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