Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Penguins' Crosby, Hornqvist thriving when paired together

Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, 10:45 p.m.

Nov 4, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) and forward Patric Hornqvist (72) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Penguins defeated the Wild 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Blame the slump on a split.

The Penguins have struggled to score with uncharacteristic frequency, but they aren't struggling when center Sidney Crosby and right wing Patric Hornqvist play together.

Those two were reunited Saturday in St. Louis, and not coincidentally the Penguins scored nine total goals during a pair of weekend victories.

The numbers suggest Crosby and Hornqvist should remain on the same line.

When they have played together this season, the Penguins are averaging 3.22 goals per game and have boasted an 18-5-4 record. Tampa Bay leads the NHL with 3.27 goals per game.

When Crosby or Hornqvist is out of the lineup, or if they have been separated, the Penguins are averaging 2.58 goals and have a 16-12-5 record.

“The last couple of games have been really good,” Hornqvist said. “It's only two games, but it's been a good two games. We're feeling good about ourselves.”

Hornqvist has averaged a point per game in his 27 games flanking Crosby. Twelve points have come on the power play, but the Penguins' offensive rhythm has been better with Crosby as playmaker and Hornqvist as finisher.

Hornqvist notches 0.50 points per game when he isn't on Crosby's line. Crosby, meanwhile, is averaging 1.41 points per game (his career average entering the season was 1.40) with Hornqvist. Without Hornqvist, Crosby is producing 0.79 points per game.

“Sid's been great,” Hornqvist said. “He's getting me the puck. Hopefully I can keep finding the net.”

Hornqvist broke a foot Dec. 27 against Washington and missed the next month. He admittedly needed a few games to find his timing and stamina.

Now back in top form, he looks comfortable on Crosby's right wing. The chemistry between them partially is explained by their styles. Crosby loves playing with wingers who make beelines to the net.

Crosby long has preferred to play with left wing Chris Kunitz. He said the adjustment to Hornqvist is minimal, noting Hornqvist being right-handed is the only difference.

“Those two guys both go to the net really hard,” Crosby said. “It doesn't change a whole lot for me.”

It does seem to change his production, at least this season.

Hornqvist's net-front prowess is getting everyone's attention. Crosby said one of Hornqvist's strongest attributes is his ability to free his stick when close to the net.

“He's one of the rare guys in the league who can jam any puck into the net,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He tips pucks really well, brings so much energy. He's a big guy for us.”

Coach Mike Johnston has said on numerous occasions that Hornqvist wasn't himself after returning from the injury.

However, Johnston said he now believes Hornqvist is clicking.

“You see Hornqvist starting to push back up again,” Johnston said. “The goals he's scored, he's right there, three feet away from the net. You know where he's going to be all the time. I think everybody on the team that plays with him knows exactly where he's going to be.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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