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Penguins' Despres works to crack lineup again

| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 7:45 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Simon Despres knocks the Islanders' Kyle Okposo off the puck in the second period on Sunday, March 10, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

RALEIGH, N.C. — With slick, puck-moving defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin out of the lineup, it would seem logical that defenseman Simon Despres would receive additional responsibility.

Just the opposite is taking place.

Despres was a healthy scratch again when the Penguins visited the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Rookie defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who was a healthy scratch during each game of the Penguins' recent 15-game winning streak, played instead.

Bortuzzo skated with Deryk Engelland, and while both have enjoyed solid seasons, the lack of puck-moving defensemen in the lineup is glaring at times without Letang and Martin. Despres could help in that department, but he remains on the bench.

Despres played in consecutive losses to Buffalo and the New York Rangers last week and hasn't cracked the lineup since.

Coach Dan Bylsma was asked Tuesday if the decision to sit Despres was a difficult one. Bylsma shook his head for about five seconds before saying “no” three times.

Bylsma suggested that Bortuzzo was a clear choice to play against the Hurricanes.

“I don't know where you want me to go with that,” Bylsma said. “Robert Bortuzzo has played real well. Against a bigger-body team around the net, Robert will be in there.”

Despres stayed on the ice for additional work following the morning skate, which is routine for healthy scratches.

He said that finding consistency in his game remains an issue.

“I have a lot of things to work on,” he said. “I can still be better. I have to learn to do the simple things better.”

Despres didn't elaborate.

At times, Despres makes high-risk plays that aren't preferred by the coaching staff. The Penguins want Despres to become more economical and low-risk in his approach rather than skating his way out of trouble or making an extra pass.

“I know I need to keep things more simple than I have,” Despres said. “I have a lot of tweaks to work on, a lot to learn. I'm learning from the older guys. Plus we have so much depth right now. The other guys are playing well. I'm just trying to get back in the lineup.”

Despres made one promise.

“When I get my chance to play again,” he said, “I'll be better.”

The Penguins are 22-6 with Despres in the lineup.

The 2010 first-round pick has produced two goals and seven points this season. He is a plus-9, which ranks 20th among NHL defensemen.

His plus-minus mark trails only Letang, Martin and Brooks Orpik among Penguins defensemen.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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