Pittsburgh sports fans love their blue-collar players. Many athletes have captured the hearts of the city by combining skill with a lunch-pail work ethic. In fact, nose-to-the-grindstone sports is kinda Pittsburgh’s thing.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone currently wearing black and gold exemplify these qualities better than Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist. Needless to say, their absence due to injury has been felt.
Don’t Hate Hornqvist…Again
During the offseason, I wrote an article titled “Don’t Hate Hornqvist”. The piece was mostly well-received, but a fair number of people felt the title was used as click bait because nobody hates Hornqvist. However, there is a portion of the hockey community that criticizes him for not fitting the mold of a “Corsi Era” player.
I’ve never understood that criticism, as I am a firm believer that “the proof is in the pudding”. In 2015-16, Hornqvist had the third highest possession numbers on the team with a Corsi For % of 56.08. This season it is 56.11, second on the team. Last season, he generated the second most shots on goal with 257 and is tied for first this year, after missing several games, with 62 shots. He has 13 points in 16 games while wreaking havoc in front of the net.
Hornqvist makess it 5-1 pic.twitter.com/E6V3KdJqMu
— Stephanie (@myregularface) November 3, 2016
The word that seems to get at people is “heart”. He plays the game with a passion and determination that most players should learn and emulate. Bobby Farnham played with heart, but he could not turn that passion into useful results like Hornqvist. Yes, there are people who would like Hornqvist to be traded. But his game is absolutely essential to the Penguins’ success. His physical, skilled presence is an asset in an era when both are needed more than ever. Just ask opponents, especially their goaltenders, if they would rather play the Penguins with or without Hornqvist.
I’m Eating Crow on Kunitz
I will admit that I am wrong…once every decade or so.
Even at the age of 37, with a large salary-cap hit, Chris Kunitz remains a valuable part of the Penguins’ success. Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said it well in a recent article:
Chris Kunitz is 37 years old, and plays a style that would leave a slab of granite bruised and seeking permanent asylum in an ice bath ~ Dave Molinari.
Like Hornqvist, Kunitz has a valuable, physical, net presence that Pittsburgh is clearly missing without him. His combination of skill and physicality have been assets for years and to this day. He continues to be a possession monster with a CF% of 54.12, which is fairly consistent with the rest of his career.
Kunitz can hit, crash the net, score goals, and play well with Evgeni Malkin, all of which are very important. I was an advocate for trading the winger during the offseason. Clearly, that would have been a mistake. He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and I can’t begin to guess how that will play out. But, at least for this season, Kunitz will be a major player as the Penguins chase another championship.
Kunitz goal pic.twitter.com/c6hb6758uo
— Stephanie (@myregularface) May 7, 2016
Both Hornqvist and Kunitz have a skate in both worlds of hockey. Skill and possession combined with grit and intangibles. A total of 39 goals and 52 assists between the pair last season is very telling. Traditionalists love them, while the advanced stats community is learning to appreciate them. Either way, Pittsburgh loves their Hines Wards of hockey.
Until next time.
Greg is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for ‘The Hockey Writers’.
He is a Pittsburgh area native who has written for multiple Penguins news and opinion sites. In addition to hockey writing, he is also an experienced YouTube creator.
Greg started with THW in 2015 as a Blue Jackets writer, and spent time as a Fantasy Hockey analyst.