Kennedy OT goal increases Penguins' streak to 12
Penguins defenseman Simon Despres couldn't have known about the vote of confidence his general manager had just given him.
That didn't stop him from making Ray Shero look like a smart man Sunday night.
Despres made the play that triggered Tyler Kennedy's overtime goal in a 2-1 victory against the Flyers. The Penguins have won 12 consecutive games and might not have had the opportunity for the victory without the 21-year-old defenseman's daring play.
Despres easily could have dumped the puck deep while Penguins forwards made a change — in fact, any hockey coach would have favored such a move — but the youngster possesses abilities that aren't always coachable.
“He'll make a play like once a night, where you go, ‘Whoa, you can't do that,' but he goes and gets it done,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
Despres made such a play in overtime, coolly waiting for forwards Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis to jump into the play while holding the puck at the Flyers' blue line.
“I knew our two forwards were coming,” Despres said. “I just wanted to slow down and wait for them. I couldn't get a good pass through to Duper, so I just banked it off the boards to him.”
Plays like that are part of the reason Shero traded defenseman Joe Morrow — he clearly is a believer in Despres' ability.
“Simon is not in any trade discussions,” Shero said following the first period. “To me, he'll be here on our team. We liked him as a prospect. He's a young player coming up like Kris Letang back in 2008. Kris didn't play every game in the playoffs (that year), but it was a great experience for him being around the type of players that we had.”
After Despres' calculated decision helped Dupuis control possession, Kennedy ripped a wrist shot that beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Sidney Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer, tied the game, 1-1, with 6:14 remaining on a slap shot during a five-on-three power play.
“I passed up a couple of shots in the first period,” Kennedy said. “Wasn't doing that again.”
The Penguins decided to trade Morrow partially because of Despres' emergence.
He still makes the occasional mistake — notably a turnover in the third period that gave the Flyers an odd-man rush — but makes up for it with his play at both ends of the ice.
Shero's comments give the defenseman more confidence.
“It's nice to hear,” he said.
His teammates appear to be buying into Despres' presence on the blue line, even if he has an aggressive style.
“I don't think confidence has ever been a problem for him,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “That's one of the reasons you see him try some of the things he does. Sometimes you get young guys who are too stupid to be nervous. Guys like him are so carefree that they're actually really tough to play against.”
Coach Dan Bylsma said he thinks Despres has become tough to play against.
“He has great ability,” Bylsma said. “He's got the puck-moving ability. He's got the size. He does not play a soft game.”
And he never had to worry about being surpassed by Morrow on the depth chart.
“He shouldn't have felt footsteps from Joe Morrow,” Bylsma said. “He's a legitimate, contributing, good defenseman in this league.”
And he's only getting better.
“This is all part of his learning curve,” Orpik said. “There is an awful lot of talent there.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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