The Pittsburgh Penguins have already progressed through almost 15 percent of the 2015-2016 regular season. The team’s early woes that saw them begin the year 0-3 have given way to a win streak that has boosted them to 8-4 through the first 12 games. Still, many worries remain for this spectacularly hyped team.
The offensive woes that had stricken the team initially have persisted, as center Sidney Crosby is off to the weakest start of his career and several of the most promising depth additions from the offseason, most notably Nick Bonino, have struggled. The scoring has picked up thanks to the performances of players such as Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and the recently healed Eric Fehr, but there is much room for improvement.
The player most likely to step up to that challenge is recent addition, Sergei Plotnikov. The 25-year-old Russian forward has had a slow start to his first NHL campaign. He has only mustered one point on one assist across nine games. He is averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time per game and has found himself in the penalty box for a total of eight minutes, a number only surpassed by Malkin and defenseman Ian Cole.
Still, the underlying numbers of Plotnikov indicate that he is bound to make a breakthrough. Through eight games played (the figures have not been updated for his ninth game), Plotnikov is leading the Penguins in both CorsiFor per 60 minutes of ice time (CF60) and CorsiAgainst per 60 minutes of ice time (CA60). In other words, when Plotnikov is on the ice, he gets the puck toward the opponent’s net and keeps chances toward his own down.
Part of Plotnikov’s early season woes may be thanks to his placement on the team’s bottom line. With Eric Fehr’s return, the line should become more potent, but through the early stretch of the season it was not particularly intimidating.
But another option that head coach Mike Johnston should consider is a promotion for the youthful Russian player. David Perron has been struggling mightily on the second line. His 49.92 CF60 is near the bottom of the team, but it is only outdone by remarkably poor 62.30 CA60. His more baseline stats of one goal and two assists are also not particularly impressive, especially when one considers that he is playing alongside a hot Evgeni Malkin.
At this point in the season, lines can be tweaked and experimented with under the threat of little to no risk. With a player like Perron struggling and a youngster like Plotnikov rapping on the door of success, it seems pretty clear that the Russian deserves his chance to prove himself. It would seem like it is only a matter of time before he takes off.
Will has written for a number of publications, varying from print to digital media. His work has been featured on SI.com, PensLabyrinth, The 405, Metacritic and The Social Humanist. Beyond hockey, he has written on the subjects of music and politics.