-- The 2011-12 NHL season has been one of feast or famine for Patric Hornqvist
-- and, to an extent, for his Nashville Predators
After struggling through an injury to his right foot, Hornqvist, a 30-goal scorer and Swedish Olympian in 2009-10, failed to register a point through the first eight games of the season (he sat out one of them) as his team went 3-4-1.
Then the hunger seemed to intensify -- at least, that's how one of the Predators' senior statesmen saw it -- and Hornqvist set a club record with goals in six straight games, posting seven overall in that span. Hornqvist's goal-scoring streak was snapped on Nov. 9, but he earned three assists in that game, helping Nashville to a 5-1-1 mark as he totaled 11 points during that seven-game run.
After an up and down year last season, Patric Hornqvist
wants to be a more consistent scorer for the Preds in 2011-12. (Photo: Debora Robinson/NHLI)
Nashville is among the NHL's hottest teams --the Predators are 7-1-2 in their last 10 after a 4-1 home win against Toronto on Thursday.
"Not a lot's changed with his overall game, just his hunger around the net," said center Jerred Smithson
, the Predators' senior forward right now at age 32. "That's where he makes his money, as he gets in that hard area in the slot. He takes a lot of abuse in there, but to score those goals on the power play, he's going to have to take some shots and some slashes and cross-checks, whatever, to get those goals, and to see him get those are definitely nice."
Hornqvist deflects credit to the team. He points out that Nashville did not generate many shots through those first seven games -- the Preds posted 12 and 14 in a two games of a three-game span before digging themselves out -- and has done a much better job of that of late. In fact, the Preds averaged only 22.1 shots through the first seven games and have upped that to 28.9 since.
Hornqvist said he simply is the beneficiary.
"I think the whole team has been playing much better," he said. "So it's easier for me to get second and third chances. Passing around, we're skating more. Plus, of course, you get that first (goal) out of the way, you stop thinking and just going.
"Yeah, everything's going good now."
After his breakout season in 2009-10, Hornqvist, the last player selected in the 2005 NHL Draft, regressed. He signed a three-year deal worth $9.25 million and then went out and scored only 21 goals in 79 games last season. Predators coach Barry Trotz
said in September of Hornqvist's output this season that he's "got to get five or six goals back."
Hornqvist does not want to repeat last season.
"Actually, last year it was a little too much up and down for me," said Hornqvist, who also totaled only two goals and an assist in 12 playoff games. "I was good part of the year and then I went down for deep, deep … hole for six, seven games. It's hard to get lots of goals when you play like that. You always have to have a consistency in your game. It feels good right now. Of course, it's only 15 games in. I'm happy about myself. Happy team's playing good."
This season, his cold start was compounded by the foot injury. Off the ice, he wore a boot but missed only one game, the home opener against Phoenix.
Trotz said he thought Hornqvist's lackluster play early was a combination of both the injury and performance. Consequently, Trotz played Hornqvist in a fourth-line role and kept his ice time low. Lately, Hornqvist unquestionably is healed and he has gone from a season-low 9:32 of ice time in a 3-2 shootout loss to New Jersey on Oct. 15 to a season-high of 20:31 in a 3-0 win against Anaheim on Oct. 29.
"We reduced his ice time for a few games so he could just heal up a little," Trotz said. "Patric just does what he does. … He goes to the net hard, goes to that blue paint and he's getting rewarded.
"He's just playing real hard."
"Last year it was a little too much up and down for me. I was good part of the year and then I went down for deep, deep … hole for six, seven games. It's hard to get lots of goals when you play like that. You always have to have a consistency in your game." -- Patric Hornqvist
That Oct. 29 game was the first time Trotz put Hornqvist on a line centered by rookie Craig Smith
with Colin Wilson
on the left wing. Smith is tied for the rookie lead in goals (7) and points (14), and also happens to be his team's co-leader in both categories. (The line is quite a youthful trio: Smith and Wilson are 22 and Hornqvist turns 25 on New Year's Day.)
Hornqvist said Smith is the kind of player he needs to play with.
"He takes (the puck) to the net," Hornqvist said. "Me and Willie like to take it to the net, too, so we have good chemistry down low. We know where the puck's going to come and we get some confidence, score some goals, so it's nice. Willie is a great passer, too. Me and Smith are shooters so we're great together.
"It's hard for me to play with guys who don't want to take it to the net."
Said Smith: "Willie is so good with the puck and protecting it and finding an open guy. It really complements what we do."
Because of his penchant for scoring greasy goals, Hornqvist is famously compared to his countryman Tomas Holmstrom
of Detroit. Holmstrom is 13 years Hornqvist's senior, but another Swede sees a slight difference.
Washington center Nicklas Backstrom
and Hornqvist share the same birth year and have played together on a World Championships team and on an under-18 team.
"He's a little more skilled, I think, than Holmstrom and a little more all-around," Backstrom said. "He develops every year."
That, anyway, is what the Preds are hoping for.