27 down, 7 to go for Preds’ Hornqvist…
- Updated: March 21, 2010
Not bad for a team who supposedly has trouble scoring, eh?
After his miserable start last season, nobody would’ve predicted that 2nd year man would score 20 goals this season. Let alone 20 by January 20.
While it’s true the 22-year old Swede went through a 10-game slump that extended through the Olympic Break, he seems to be on a tear now. He’s got six points in his last six games, including four goals.
“Horn Dog,” as he’s affectionately known by the Predator fan base, seems to get hot in spurts. For example, from December 14 through January 26, he tallied 15 goals in 20 games. Nashville could use that kind of scoring headed down the stretch and, of course, in the playoffs.
It’s almost as if as Hornqvist goes, the Preds go. That’s not to suggest Nashville can’t win if he’s not producing but it certainly helps. In the aforementioned six games that he’s scored six points, the Predators are 5-1. And, without a third period collapse in San Jose on March 11, they could be 6-0.
The Sollentuna, Sweden native started off slow last season. Expectations for Hornqvist were high as he was slotted in with Arnott and JP Dumont on the top line. Skating along side those two proven veteran producers suggested the rookie would be a 40-point guy by default, prompting some to personalize their jerseys with “Hornqvist” “27″ even before the season started.
But, after registering just two goals in the teams’ opening 15 games, he was sent back to the Milwaukee Admirals on what was basically a “confidence assignment.” He was then recalled twice after that but only had a minus-1 rating to show for the remainder of his debut NHL season, prompting some to sell said “Hornqvist” “27″ jerseys.
Needless to say, most thought he’d start the 2009-10 season with the farm club after drastically failing to live up to expectations the season before. The organization knew the talent was still there (he had posted very successful numbers in both the Swedish Elite League and during his time in Milwaukee) but they started to wonder if his game would translate to the NHL level.
Then the 2009-10 season began. Steve Sullivan was back in the lineup on opening night for the first time in three years and Hornqvist wasn’t able to just inherit a top line position. He showed he didn’t care. Top line or checking line, he was getting on the scoresheet. He posted one point through one game. Four points through two games. Then five points through four games. He was finally showing he could play with the big boys.
But then deja vu kicked in and Hornqvist struggled to produce. He managed only six points in his next 27 games. Those doubting thoughts started to creep into the heads of the Nashville faithful once again. “What’s wrong with Hornqvist?” “Was his fast start a fluke?” “Is he not skating with the right players?”
Not from lack of trying, however. Hornqvist fired 83 shots on goal during that 27 game stretch, including games where he had five shots (four times), six shots and even 10 shots on goal. But, unfortunately, zero of those 83 went past the goal line.
But then game #32 came around. Columbus goaltender Steve Mason let one by him. Then, the next night, Tampa goalie Mike Smith let a puck through. Then Edmonton’s Jeff Deslauriers let two go by a couple days later. Since December 14, Hornqvist has never looked back, essentially averaging at least a goal every other game.
Until just before the Olympic Break that is. Hornqvist failed to find the back of the net in the five games leading up to representing his country in Vancouver and then returned from the Winter Games with a five-game drought as well. But fear not. The 23-year old is back on a tear. He’s got seven points in the month of March and will need to continue to produce if Nashville wants to push for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The good news is that, even when Hornqvist isn’t producing on the scoresheet, he’s providing the team with other intangibles. He’s second on the team with a plus-13 rating. Only rookie defenseman Cody Franson has a better rating (plus-14). What’s even more impressive, Hornqvist managed to finish that three game stretch back in October where the Preds were embarrassed by a combined score of 13-1 with only a minus-1.
It could be argued that Hornqvist’s willingness to park himself in the crease and his productivity while doing so, could be the biggest factor if Nashville wins a playoff round for the first time in their 11 year franchise history. Great teams that have a history of going a long way in the post season typically have players of Hornqvist’s ilk. And, since the Preds haven’t had a player like that since Scott Hartnell in 2006-07 (who was on Predators teams arguably before they were ready to win a round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs), Hornqvist could end up being the x-factor.
While anything can happen in the final 10 games of the regular season, including a slide that could put Nashville on the outside looking in, all things being equal, it’s perfectly logical to see how Hornqvist setting up shop in front of the opposition’s netminder could be the deciding factor in whether the Bridgestone Arena hosts a second round playoff game for the first time in the history of the city.
Setting the new franchise record for goals on top of that would just be gravy.
PHOTO CREDIT: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images