PITTSBURGH — Patric Hornqvist loves nothing more than to park himself in front of the net and dare somebody to move him out of the way. The rugged forward has built a pretty healthy career out of going to the spots on the ice that are not for the meek.
And when it works — as it did in Pittsburgh’s 4-2 win over Nashville on Tuesday — Hornqvist can be the perfect complement to whatever line coach Mike Sullivan throws together on a given night. Reunited with Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary against the surging Predators, Hornqvist turned in a pair of goals that encapsulate what he does so well.
Hornqvist banked in a shot off Nashville’s Pekka Rinne to give the Penguins a two-goal lead in the second then added his second of the game just over five minutes later, lifting the stick of Predators defenceman Matt Irwin and flipping the puck by Rinne in one motion.
"He does what he does," Sullivan said. "He’s our north/south guy. He plays in the battle areas. He goes to the net. … He scores those greasy-type goals when he’s in tight."
Hornqvist, Crosby and Sheary played brilliantly together last spring while helping the Penguins to a championship. Sullivan put them back together for Pittsburgh’s return from the All-Star break and the results were immediate. Hornqvist nearly scored on his first shift and never stopped coming.
"I think we play really well together," said Hornqvist, who played his first six seasons in the NHL with Nashville before being shipped to Pittsburgh in 2014. "We know exactly where we are on the ice and we show that."
Trevor Daley and Chris Kunitz also scored for Pittsburgh. Crosby picked up an assist on Hornqvist’s first goal for the 994th career point, and Matt Murray finished with 37 saves.
Calle Jarnkrok scored his eighth goal and Colin Wilson added his seventh for the Predators. Pekka Rinne made 35 saves, but the Penguins dominated the second period behind Hornqvist.
"The second period we were awful," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "We didn’t skate, we didn’t compete, it’s really where we lost the game."
Pittsburgh went through a bit of a hiccup heading into the break, getting shut out at home against St. Louis and then falling 4-3 in Boston to fall a bit off the pace of front-running Washington in the hypercompetitive Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins returned home without centre Evgeni Malkin, who missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury, but defenceman Kris Letang played a team-high 23:45 after sitting out six games with a lower-body injury of his own.
The teams traded goals in the first period before Daley gave Pittsburgh the lead with a breakaway slap shot from just outside the left circle 3:10 into the second. Hornqvist got his first of the night just past the game’s midway point, and then showed why he’s so valuable in traffic on the power play at 16:12.
Nick Bonino tried to shoot the puck from the slot but whiffed. Irwin was in position to send it out of harm’s way. Hornqvist lifted Irwin’s stick and in one motion swept flipped the puck by a sprawled and stickless Rinne to give Murray more than enough cushion.
"We’re going to have to learn from this, we had a streak going," Nashville defenceman Ryan Ellis said after the Predators lost in regulation for just the second time in their last 10 games. "We were playing really good hockey and we need to regroup, refocus and come back from this game better."
NOTES: Nashville went 1 for 2 on the power play. Pittsburgh was 1 for 3 with the man advantage. … The Penguins turned off all water fountains, soda fountains and ice machines at PPG Paints Arena as a precaution after the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority issued a boil water advisory for portions of the city. … Pittsburgh centre Carter Rowney played 9:20 in his NHL debut. … Nashville D Yannick Weber left in the second period after taking a puck to the face. … The Predators lost in regulation for the first time this season in a game in which they scored the first goal (15-1-5).
Predators: Open a three-game homestand on Thursday against Edmonton. Nashville edged the Oilers 3-2 in a shootout on Jan. 20.
Penguins: Host Columbus on Friday. The Blue Jackets won the first meeting between the clubs 7-1 on Dec. 22.