It’s not that people hadn’t seen Patric Hornqvist score goals. After all, he has been the Nashville Predators’ leader in that regard for several weeks now.
It’s just that they didn’t see him do so Thursday when the Predators defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-3 before a sellout crowd of 17,113 at Sommet Center.
The 23-year-old who was the final overall selection in the 2005 NHL draft added two to both his team-leading totals for goals (23) and power-play goals (eight) when the Predators found the net four times during the second period.
Both came on deflections of shots by Jason Arnott, and there were those who believed — at least initially — that each was scored by the Predators’ captain. Arnott officially did get one. He made it 3-2 and put the Predators ahead to stay with 5:38 to go in the second, 23 seconds after the Avalanche had tied it.
“I think we’ve got to give a lot of credit to Hornqvist for going to the front of the net and tipping pucks in and being a screen,” forward Steve Sullivan said. “He goes to the dirty areas and really gets the job done. So we got pucks to that area.”
With 26 games remaining in this season, Hornqvist is now four shy of David Legwand’s mark for the most goals ever scored in a season by a Nashville draft choice. Legwand, of course, was the first pick in franchise history and second overall selection in 1998. He had 27 in 2006-07.
“This was one of those nights where I got some lucky bounces,” Hornqvist said. “You have to keep going on and hopefully get more goals.”
He eventually got what was coming to him in the scoring column. It just took a little time.
The off-ice officials were the ones who initially ruled that Hornqvist’s first, which tied the score 1-1 at 6:46 of the period, belonged to Arnott. That mistake was not rectified publicly until the second intermission.
Thus, when Hornqvist did it again in the final minute of the period there were those in the crowd who believed that Arnott had a hat trick, and play was delayed briefly as hats rained down from the seating area. Only after all the hats were cleared from the ice was it announced that the goal was Hornqvist’s.
“I was laughing on the bench because I knew he tipped (the second one),” Arnott said. “… The first goal, I went and told them right off the bat, but usually they take the rest of the period to change it. … The second one it was pretty obvious he tipped it.”
Even so, all was not lost for Arnott. He tied his career-high with three assists (it was the 12th time in his career he did so) and had a season-high four points. That was one point more than he had in the previous seven games combined.
His wingers on the first line added five points — Hornqvist had two goals and an assist and Sullivan had one of each. Two of those three had a hand in each of Nashville’s season-high three power-play goals.
“It’s good just to win, let’s start with that,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Our top players (Thursday) night were our top players.”
And the tops of many heads needlessly went home unprotected.
“It’s so hard to see when they’re tip plays,” Hornqvist said. “It’s still fun when they throw hats out on the ice.”
• To say it was unexpected for the Predators to go 3-for-6 on the power play is an understatement, particularly given the opposition. Nashville came into the game having scored just once in its last 25 opportunities with the man-advantage. Colorado’s penalty killers had successfully defended 24 in a row.
“Finally, one goes in … and all of a sudden we’ve got confidence,” Sullivan said. “It’s a funny game, and right now that we’re feeling good we just have to keep going forward with this.”
The Predators’ last power-play goal before Thursday was Jan. 22 — at Colorado.
• With the victory, Nashville won the season series with Colorado (3-1-0) and closed to within two points of the Avalanche in the Western Conference standings.
“We knew how big this hockey game was,” Sullivan said. “We knew that they were way ahead of us in the standings. … We could have been six points behind them, but now we are two.”
• Pekka Rinne improved to 20-10-3 on the season, which made him the third goalie in franchise history to win at least 20 in back-to-back seasons.
Tomas Vokoun won 20 or more in four straight beginning in 2002-03, and Mike Dunham won 21 and 23 in 2001-02 and 2002-03, respectively.
Rinne won 29 last season.
“I am beginning to feel confident, and with each game it makes things easier,” said Rinne, who has played the last three games (2-0-1). “I think you get more and more relaxed.”
• Joel Ward became the eight different Nashville player with 10 goals this season. The Predators had just eight reach that number in all of 2008-09.
• Shea Weber has 23 assists on the season, which matches the second-highest total of his career.