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Penguins notebook: Heralded Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov debuts with Capitals

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 8:09 p.m.
Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) fights for position against Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta (right) and Lee Stempniak during the first period Monday, March 10, 2014, in Washington.

WASHINGTON — The Loch Ness Monster started on the fourth line Monday.

Winger Evgeny Kuznetsov made his long-anticipated NHL debut for the Washington Capitals against the Penguins at Verizon Center. Bearing a quick-glance stylistic resemblance to Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, Kuznetsov worked on a Capitals line with center Jay Beagle and right winger Tom Wilson.

The Capitals tried to temper expectations for Kuznetsov — not easy because his highlight-reel goals scored while playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League became mainstay videos on their fans' websites.

Kuznetsov, drafted 26th overall in 2010, signed his entry-level NHL contract Saturday.

“It was kind of like seeing the Loch Ness Monster when he walked in,” Capitals general manager George McPhee told local reporters.

Kuznetsov, 21, was widely considered one of the best players not in the NHL, though injuries (shoulder, knee) prevented him from playing for Russia at the Sochi Games. Only fears that he would not immediately play in North America prevented him from going higher at the 2010 Entry Draft, where many scouts had him rated as the most gifted player of the class.

Scouting Bennett

Another member of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft Class is Penguins winger Beau Bennett, and like Kuznetsov, he could provide a late-season boost.

Bennett, who resumed practicing, will be re-evaluated by the medical staff Sunday to determine when he can return from a surgically repaired right wrist/hand that has prevented him from playing for almost four months.

At the time of his injury Nov. 22, Bennett had supplanted Pascal Dupuis as the right winger on captain Sidney Crosby's top line.

“Beau can skate, but he's more someone who possesses the puck a little bit more — likes to have it on his stick and create that way,” Crosby said.

Coach Dan Bylsma said Bennett's role upon his return had yet to be determined, stressing that he needed to “just play.” Bennett has appeared in only 12 games and scored one goal.

Rough times

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is on pace to lead the NHL in goals for a fourth time in nine seasons. He will have overcome some serious adversity to win another Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.

Ovechkin's Capitals began Monday out of the Eastern Conference playoff field, though only a point behind Columbus for the final wild-card slot. Last month at the Winter Olympics in his native Russia, Ovechkin scored only one goal, and his squad failed to medal.

Also during the Olympics, Ovechkin's father, Mikhail, had an apparent heart attack that required surgery.

Ovechkin was not told of his father's medical condition until after Team Russia was eliminated from the tournament. Mikhail Ovechkin is recovering in Moscow.

Gibbons, Bortuzzo scratched

Gibbons (lower body) and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (upper body) missed a second straight game for the Penguins. Bylsma said both possibly could play against the Capitals on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.

Conner out with broken foot

Winger Chris Conner will miss four to six weeks with a broken left foot, Bylsma said after the Penguins' win over the Capitals. Conner, who had recovered from a hand injury, was injured Sunday night blocking a shot during practice, Bylsma said.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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