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Penguins notebook: Patric Hornqvist plays for first time since scoring Stanley Cup clincher

Jonathan Bombulie
| Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, 8:11 p.m.
Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist scores the game winner in the third period during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday, June 11, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist scores the game winner in the third period during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday, June 11, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena.
Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92), of Russia, battles for the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92), of Russia, battles for the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

WASHINGTON — Patric Hornqvist made his season debut for the Penguins on Wednesday night, having recovered from offseason hand surgery that kept him sidelined for the team's first three games.

It was his first appearance since June 11, when he broke a scoreless tie late in the third period with the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 of the finals in Nashville.

With a broken hand.

“We all played through a lot last year with injuries and things like that,” Hornqvist said, downplaying the physical adversity he overcame. “It was obviously a big moment for me. Playing against Nashville in the finals and scoring that goal, it can't get any bigger for me and my teammates, too.

“We won back-to-back championships like (the media) said was impossible to do. Now we put that behind us. It's a new season, a new opportunity, and we all want the same thing.”

It was Hornqvist's first game in Washington since May 10, when he scored a third-period goal to help the Penguins to a 2-0 victory in Game 7 of a second-round playoff series.

None of his bones were broken at that point, he said.

“I was healthy back then,” Hornqvist said with a laugh.

Hornqvist's return was received extraordinarily positively in the Penguins locker room, of course, for a couple of reasons.

First, he is perhaps the team's most fiery player on and off the ice.

“I think that's the way I play,” Hornqvist said. “That's what I try to do every single night, to play hard and play the game my way, and that's obviously with a lot of energy and a lot of speed. If I go out there in the game, I make sure I'm 100 percent.”

Second, his net-front presence brings a different element to the team's offensive attack.

Since the Penguins acquired Hornqvist from Nashville in 2014, in the regular season, the team is 129-63-24 with him in the lineup (.653 winning percentage) and 13-12-8 when he doesn't play (.515).

“He's a great puck-pursuit guy,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He goes to the net hard. He's good in the battle areas. He's strong on the wall. He helps us get the puck back when we don't have it. He's good at protecting it when we do have it.

“I think he has the ability to create space for players just by going to the net and drawing people when he goes there. He makes it really difficult on opponents' goaltenders because of his willingness to go to the front of the net. It takes sight lines away and limits mobility and movement. That's the player that he is.”

Lineup notes

Hornqvist's return bumped winger Scott Wilson out of the lineup.

“The group that we have, I think they all understand their roles,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “All a player can do is control what he can, and that's his attitude and his work ethic and his approach.”

Sullivan said he didn't have a timetable for the return of Ian Cole from a facial injury, but he was optimistic about the defenseman's recovery.

“I think the last couple of days, he's improving more than we expected him to,” Sullivan said.

Chad Ruhwedel took Cole's spot in the lineup. Defenseman Chris Summers, called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday, and Josh Archibald also were scratched.

Missed connection

The Penguins didn't have Washington's Tom Wilson to worry about Wednesday night. The physically imposing winger was serving the last game of a four-game suspension for boarding St. Louis' Sam Blais in an exhibition game.

New Penguins heavyweight Ryan Reaves said Wilson's absence didn't change his approach to the rivalry matchup. When he played in St. Louis, Reaves fought Wilson twice.

“I've talked to him a couple times over my career, yeah,” Reaves said. “I don't change the approach at all. I still play physical. I still try to get the puck deep and go grind down there.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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