It was only against the New Jersey Devils, a very bad hockey team that is going nowhere, but Simon Despres excelled last night in extended minutes, playing a top pairing role with Kris Letang and was rewarded with the overtime goal in a Penguins 2-1 win.
Pittsburgh outshot New Jersey 43-14 in the OT win and had 54 shot attempts to the Devils 20 at even strength as Corey Schneider stood on his head all game. The Penguins, though, needed a late power play goal from Chris Kunitz to force overtime.
On Despres, one of the Penguins pressing issues moving forward is the lack of a No. 4 defenseman. Robert Bortuzzo is not the answer, Scott Harrington isn’t ready and Rob Scuderi is a PK specialist/third pairing defenseman at this stage of his career.
Internally the only true option to potentially excel as the No. 4 d-man is Despres.
The Penguins coaching staff has been cautious with Despres in limiting his minutes this season in a third pairing role and Christian Ehrhoff’s injury opened the opportunity to give Despres a more prominent role last night.
“We put [Simon] Despres and [Kris] Letang together,” Mike Johnston said. “We’re trying to see if he can maybe bump up a little bit. He handled the minutes well.”
Despres played 23:01, finishing with goal (OT winner), 5 shots and 1 hit. Despres was on the ice for 29 shot attempts and just 5 against.
Anybody can look good with Kris Letang these days and it was only the Devils but the Penguins coaching staff/management needs to see over the next couple weeks whether Despres is ready to handle an increased role.
A better test for Despres in a top-2 pairing role will be Sunday afternoon against the Nashville Predators.