Hornqvist varies offense, positions himself to set standards for scoring consistency

Monday, March 28, 2011 at 11:05pm

The essential elements of Patric Hornqvist’s game remain unchanged even if his statistics look a little different recently.

Hornqvist has been the Nashville Predators’ most reliable — and productive — goal scorer for much of last season and the current one.

Yet three times in the last five games, including each of the last two, his only points have been a pair of assists. Those six helpers were as many as he had in the previous 25 games combined and increased his season total to a career-high 22.

“I love to score goals and I like to go in front of the net,” he said Monday. “I went through some tough times this year, not scoring in 10 or 15 games or something like that. As long as you work hard every night and keep shooting the puck and going to the hard areas, you know you’re going to get scoring again.”

With six games remaining this season, the next of which is Tuesday against Vancouver (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena), Hornqvist remains tied for the team lead in goals and is in position to break new offensive ground for the franchise.

With one more goal, the final pick of the 2005 draft (230th overall) will become the first player ever drafted by Nashville to register at least 20 goals and 20 assists in back-to-back seasons. He had a team-high 30 goals and 21 assists last season.

Neither David Legwand (second overall, 1998) nor Martin Erat (191st overall, 1999), the top two scorers in franchise history, has done it. Neither did Scott Hartnell (sixth overall, 2000).

The only Predators ever to do so were those brought in through trade (Steve Sullivan) or free agency (Paul Kariya, J-P Dumont, Jason Arnott).

“I think everybody would want to get 20 [goals] if you have the chance,” Hornqvist said. “… I shoot the puck a lot, and I’m not going to shoot it even more or anything like that. I’m going to keep playing my game and hopefully I can get to that number.”

Lately, it is his passing has been more productive.

The timing largely has coincided with his move to a line that includes Sergei Kostitsyn, with whom he shares the team lead for goals, and Mike Fisher. Hornqvist had the primary assists on both Kostitsyn goals in last Thursday’s 5-4 victory over Anaheim and had one primary and one secondary assist as Fisher scored twice in Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Dallas.

“It’s good to see because we’re pretty heavily reliant on [Hornqvist] scoring goals,” General Manager David Poile said. “On that line, if Kostitsyn can score and Fisher can score, it obviously gives you better balance and opens up things a bit. Any offense is welcome for the Predators.”

Whether the current trend continues or not will have a direct effect on whether or not he carves out another unique place in the Predators’ annals.

If Hornqvist scores enough goals over the remaining six games of the season — at least as many as Kostitsyn — he will become the first Nashville player ever to lead the team in goals in consecutive years.

Scott Walker is the only one ever to have the outright lead in two seasons (2000-01, 2003-04). Arnott is the only other one to top the list twice — he shared the title with Legwand in 2006-07 and held outright with his franchise-record 33 goals in 2008-09.

“As long as we get two points and we get to the playoffs, I don’t care who scores or who passes it,” Hornqvist said. “All of us … this is a team sport and we have a great group of guys in this room. We just want to make the playoffs so bad. I don’t think anybody cares who scores or who passes.”

Briefly

Vancouver is the only Western Conference team that has clinched a playoff berth and the only team in the league with at least 50 victories so far.

The Canucks come to town having won three straight and 10 of their last 11. It has been more than two months since they have lost back-to-back contests.

“Nothing seems to bother them,” Poile said. “They’re clearly the class of the league right now. They have their swagger. They play well every night. They have players that are going to be MVP candidates, leading scorer candidates, etc., etc.

“They’ve had their share of injuries also and nothing seems to fluster or bother them. They’ve been the most consistent team in the league all year long.”

Nashville, however, has won two of this season’s three meetings and now has the opportunity to win the season series with Vancouver for the first time since 2006-07.