Penguins Predictions: Will Patric Hornqvist rediscover his power-play prowess? | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Penguins Predictions: Will Patric Hornqvist rediscover his power-play prowess?

Jonathan Bombulie
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid blocks the Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist shot in the first period Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

Last year, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist had a good first half and a terrible second half of the season. That cannot be debated.

He had 15 goals in 34 games when a puck to the face gave him the fourth documented concussion of his career Jan. 8. He had three goals in 35 games after returning to the lineup.

What can be discussed is the reason for the downturn.

Now 32, it’s possible that Hornqvist’s numbers plummeted because his hard-nosed style of play has begun to create wear and tear on his body that he just can’t overcome.

At the end of the season, he dismissed that idea vigorously.

“I just didn’t play well and had that slump there for a long time and it’s hard to get out of those when you get in those and it feels like you’re doing the right thing and the puck doesn’t go your way and you get frustrated and that’s probably the worst thing you can do,” Hornqvist said. “I learned a lot from this season. We didn’t have the result that we wanted as a team and for myself too, I didn’t play as good as I can.”

Hornqvist backed up his words by promptly joining Team Sweden for the World Championships in Slovakia and recording seven goals in seven games of pool play.

It was an encouraging sign for the Penguins, who will need increased production from Hornqvist on the right wing now that Phil Kessel is gone.

A good barometer to see if the rebound continues this season is Hornqvist’s power-play goal total. When he racked up 29 goals in 2017-18, 15 of them came on the power play. Last season, he managed only six.

THE QUESTION

How many power-play goals will Patric Hornqvist score this season?

MULTIPLE CHOICE

A. More than 12

While there’s no denying Hornqvist is getting older, his style of play on the power play hasn’t changed one iota. He still barrels to the front of the net, where he irritates opposing goaltenders and stands in position to score on screens, tips and rebounds. The big difference last season was his shooting percentage on the power play. Over the previous three seasons, he scored a total of 34 goals on a shooting percentage better than 20%. Last year, he managed a similar number of shots, but only 12.5% of them went in. He’s due for a big-time regression toward his career mean.

B. Between six and 12

While Hornqvist remains a strong net-front presence, there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll never again rack up 15 power-play goals like he did two years ago. Most notably, who knows what the Penguins’ top power play will look like this season? It’s entirely possible that swapping out Kessel for Alex Galchenyuk will be detrimental. Also, how long can Hornqvist hold off 40-goal scorer Jake Guentzel in the battle for power-play ice time?

C. Less than six

If Hornqvist stays healthy, it’s foolish to predict he’ll score fewer than the six power-play goals he netted last season. That said, Hornqvist’s track record with concussions is serious business that must not be taken lightly. Part of his job description is taking abuse from the biggest, most physical defensemen on the opposing team while he parks himself at the top of the crease. It’s a hard place to stay healthy.

THE PREDICTION

B. Between six and 12

There are enough signs of erosion in Hornqvist’s game to think he’ll end up with a respectable but not eye-popping power-play goal total. There will still be pucks bouncing in off his shin pads, but there will be fewer pinpoint Kessel passes to cash in on and a little less ice time as Guentzel continues to grow into his role as the team’s top goal scorer.

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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