Penguins notebook: Plotnikov's status with team unclear

Bill West
| Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, 8:57 p.m.

After Wednesday's practice at UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, as media members listened to Beau Bennett speak about his recovery from a shoulder injury, winger Sergei Plotnikov walked up to the scrum, grabbed a reporter's video-recording smart phone, and jokingly tried to blend in with the rest of the group.

Off the ice, there still are opportunities for the 25-year-old Russian rookie to have fun, even with a limited English vocabulary.

On it, there are mostly moments that bring into question the winger's purpose with the Penguins. And the impending return of Bennett will further crowd the winger corps, which might complicate any plans the team has for Plotnikov, who was a healthy scratch Thursday for the sixth straight game.

A producer of 30-point campaigns in his final three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, Plotnikov, who signed a one-year contract with a $925,000 cap hit in July, is nowhere near as promising of a scorer with the Penguins. He's still without a goal, and both of his assists came in the season's first 30 days. But his possession numbers, and his influence on teammates' advanced metrics, remain encouraging, albeit less so under coach Mike Sullivan.

“Plots is a guy that I'm trying to learn more about, as far as what his core competency is and what he's going to bring to the team,” Sullivan said. “When I watched Plots in training camp and in the limited time I've been here, I think one of his strengths is his ability to play in the battle areas. You know, net front, in the corners. He protects the puck really well. Our next step is we'd like to see it materialize into something. I think that's where there's been a little bit of a disconnect.”

Sullivan easily describes the abilities of the wingers called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He coached them until his promotion in mid-December, so he knows how well Tom Kuhnhackl deflects shots, how well Kevin Porter kills penalties, how Bryan Rust's speed works on the forecheck and how Conor Sheary possesses the versatility to play on any forward line. The former Baby Pens have become bottom-six forward fixtures, nudging Plotnikov out of the picture.

“I thought he went for about a month there that he played real well,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He's a heavy body. I believe he can play in the league. He's another guy that's snake-bitten (offensively).”

Time to heal

In the latest chapter of his ongoing saga with injuries, defenseman Kris Letang skated at Thursday's morning skate and played against the Flyers later in the day.

Letang, dealing with an ailing hand since he took a hit into the boards from Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan on Jan. 15, sat out Wednesday's practice, and his status, relayed through Sullivan, remained “day-to-day.”

Because Letang returned for the third period of the game against the Lightning, sat out of Sunday's win over Carolina and played 26 minutes in Monday's loss in St. Louis, there's little clarity on how much hand discomfort remains.

“I'm not going to lie: I needed that day,” he said of missing Wednesday's practice. “I was not in a situation where I could gain much out of doing that. That'd strain a lot of things. I think the best way is to rest and try to get better.”

Travel plans

With a blizzard likely to bury Washington this weekend, the status of the Penguins' 12:30 p.m. road game Sunday against the Capitals is shaky.

“We will monitor the forecast and consult with the NHL/NBA regarding games this weekend,” Ted Leonsis, owner of the Capitals and Washington Wizards, wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

The Penguins, who host Vancouver at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, are also monitoring the weather and waiting for further information from the Capitals and league, a team spokesperson said.

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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