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|Plotnikov adds more physicality and puck-control skills to second line for Penguins
3 октября 2015 года. Menendez, Jenn. TCA Regional News
Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist played nearly 20 games on the same line in 2014-15, so building chemistry this preseason hasn't been a Herculean task.
Sergei Plotnikov, however, was busy skating his way around Russia's Kontinental Hockey League last season, long before a spot next to his famed countryman on an NHL line was a glimmer in his eye.
Somehow, a natural trio already is emerging from what was expected to simply be a talented duo.
The line combined for two goals on the way to a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night in Johnstown, Pa., flashing the beginnings of real chemistry.
"I am [seeing chemistry build] and I like what I see," coach Mike Johnston said. "Certainly, Hornqvist and Geno we thought they had some chemistry before, but Sergei Plotnikov? I know people have talked about him and for me he's fit in better and better every night that I see him."
Hornqvist said the basics are there with Malkin, and it's now about the finer points of their game.
"We need to get our game in order. I'm not worried about me and Geno, we're going to find each other out there," Hornqvist said. "We just have to get those small details in touch like stopping the puck, making sure we backcheck, make sure we always support each other and all of that. That's the hardest part."
Earlier this week, Malkin said he believes the group is improving as a line game by game.
"It was good. Every game we're getting better," Malkin said. "We worked hard to score a couple goals. I tried to talk a little bit more on the ice... I think we did a good job the whole game."
Plotnikov seems to be growing more comfortable on the ice with each shift.
He said through a translator earlier this week that the speed of the NHL and the quick decision-making that comes with that, has taken some getting used to.
Largely, however, he can see progress, and believes his comfort with playing a physical game is helping.
"I'm getting used to playing with those guys. They're helping me a lot on the ice," Plotnikov said. "They're telling me what to do and where to go, so, yeah, they're a big help."
Johnston is a pairs guy. He believes certain pairs of players need to be kept together -- like Malkin and Honrqvist -- and the third linemate is more interchangeable.
But could Plotnikov stick with Malkin and Hornqvist?
"The thing I like about his game, he can make plays but he's big and strong on the puck and he hangs onto the puck down low," Johnston said. "He protects the puck really well. There's some chemistry there for sure. I liked the plays, I liked how they hung onto the puck in the offensive zone."
The physical side of Plotnikov has not gone unnoticed.
"Yeah, because most people think of a lot of European players aren't physical, they're more skilled and that can be the case but he's a little more of a blend-type of player," Johnston said . "He's a hard player to play against. I just like when he has the puck he's really tough to knock off the puck. He's strong on it. And with Geno [he is] going to find open space, so you know that. Once they start to get a feel for each other, I think you'll start to see a few more open opportunities around the net."
NOTES -- The Penguins finished their preseason with a 2-1 loss Friday night to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Right winger Pascal Dupuis scored the Penguins goal while center Jordan Staal and defenseman James Wisniewski scored for the Hurricanes. Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves. The Penguins finished the preseason with a 3-5-0 record.