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What to expect from Patric Hornqvist this season

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His 2018-19 season was a tale of two very different seasons.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of players that are going to have a say in whether or not the Penguins bounce back from an inconsistent 2018-19 season. At the top of that list (maybe even a distant second to Evgeni Malkin) is going to be winger Patric Hornqvist.

Because he has been such an important cog in the machine for so many years now, and is still viewed “heart and soul” player that offers refreshingly honest assessments of both his play and the team’s play, he managed to escape a lot of the same criticism that was directed at different members of the team this past season. But we need to be very honest about his overall performance: It was very bad for a very significant part of the season.

When you break it down it really was a tale of two very different seasons for Hornqvist.

The first season was an extremely productive first half that saw him performing at the normally expected Patric Hornqvist levels, and seemed to at least temporarily quiet any of the concerns that came from his brand new five-year contract extension.

Through his first 34 games he was on a 36-goal, 62-point pace, a set of numbers any Penguins fan (and the Penguins themselves) would have absolutely signed up for at the start of the season.

Then, in early January, he was sidelined with yet another head injury, missed a few couple of weeks, and was seemingly rushed back into the lineup before he was ready.

His season was never the same after that, and the difference in performance is striking (this includes playoff numbers as well).

Patric Hornqvist 2018-19 Performance

Part Of Season Games Goals Points Shots Shooting Percentage Goals/82 Points/82 Shots/82
Part Of Season Games Goals Points Shots Shooting Percentage Goals/82 Points/82 Shots/82
Before Injury 34 15 26 96 0.156 36.1 62.6 229.6
After Returning 39 3 11 116 0.026 6.2 23.1 243.5

That is completely falling off the cliff in the second half.

What do we make of all of this?

First, it’s easy to draw a line in the season here and see the before and after with his latest injury, and it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that something was not quite right after he returned. That is a legitimate cause for concern because Hornqvist plays a fearless, brutally physical style of hockey and has suffered a lot of head injuries in a very short period of time. That is never a good thing.

How much of that caused his second half fall? It is quite literally impossible to say.

While it no doubt played some kind of role, especially in the immediate aftermath of his return, his season had kind of a strange breakdown even when you remove that aspect of it from the equation.

When he was filling the net in the first half of the season he was doing so thanks in large part to what would have been a career-high shooting percentage and a number that, for him, was probably unsustainable. He was going to see an inevitable regression there no matter what. Hornqvist is a player that has never shot at a rate higher than 11.7 percent in any full season in his career, topped 10 percent just four times, and is only a 9 percent shooter for his career. Pretty much your league-average mark. He does not score goals because he has a great shot that is going to cleanly beat goalies by picking corners in the net. He has always been a volume goal-scorer ... meaning he scores a lot of goals because he takes a lot of shots and is usually in good positions for those shots.

In the first half the shot volume was down, but the shooting percentage skyrocketed. It was pretty much the exact opposite of what Hornqvist has been throughout his career.

In short: It was a hot streak, and a great one that helped boost his numbers. He was never going to maintain that over 82 games whether he stayed perfectly healthy or not.

That is kind of what stands out about his second half struggles because everything completely flipped around.

Despite his struggles scoring goals and generating points, he ended up getting more shots on goal and created more chances.

He just couldn’t buy a goal with a shooting percentage that dipped down to only two percent.

In short: He may have struggled a bit for a variety of reasons, but he was also damn unlucky.

If you have been reading my articles or Tweets for any length of time you will know that I always hammer home the fact that production at the NHL is NOT consistent. A player that scores 40 goals in the NHL does not do it by scoring a goal every other game on a regular schedule. They do it by scoring six goals in two games, going eight goals without a game, then scoring five goals in three games. Hot streaks, followed by cold streaks. Every player’s production is streaky to a degree. A player doesn’t usually end up with the final result by following the same steady path.

In Hornqvist’s case he had a lucky first half, an unlucky second half, and the end result was probably going to put him close to what he normally does over 82 games.

That does not mean there should not be serious questions that remain unanswered for Hornqvist heading into this season.

The injury history is a concern, as is the fact he is another year older. The effort will always be there, but at some point players begin to break down.

He also still carries that pretty significant salary cap hit for another four seasons and if he does not bounce back from that second half it is going to only add to the Penguins’ salary cap crunch in future seasons.

If you’re the Penguins, you have to hope the second half was just a poorly timed cold streak and regression that just so happened to coincide with his return from an injury. There are some signs that could point to that being the case, including his increased shot volume in the second half and the ridiculously low shooting percentage that almost has to bounce back.

Because if it is not that, and it’s a sign of what could be coming this season and in future seasons, that is going to be a problem for the Penguins.