-- Consider it a successful NHL debut for Pittsburgh Penguins
defenseman Simon Despres
Learning curve for Caps players
Corey Masisak - NHL.com Senior Writer
The focus for the Capitals, regardless of the opponent, remains squarely on themselves this week -- trying to learn the system of their new coach and adapt to his philosophy. READ MORE ›
The 20-year-old defenseman from Laval, Que., had an assist and was on the ice for both Pittsburgh goals in a 2-1 victory Thursday night against the rival Washington Capitals
at Verizon Center.
"I mean, it wasn't the nicest point in history, but I'll take it for sure," Despres said. "I just tried to keep it simple. It was fun. It was a great experience. I had a lot of fun and I'm really happy we won."
Pittsburgh is without top defensemen Kris Letang
and Zybnek Michalek, so Despres was recalled from Wilkes Barre-Scranton and ended up facing Alex Ovechkin
and the Capitals in his first NHL contest. The game featured more than 60 hits, and was played at the typically furious pace these two clubs tend to reach when they square off.
"Oh yeah, definitely," Despres said when asked if he enjoyed the rivalry. "It was the crowd being really into it, an awesome atmosphere. It really pumped me up for the game."
Ovechkin finished the game with only one shot on net, and the Capitals had just 17 -- including two in the final period. Despres and fellow rookie defenseman Robert Bortuzzo
combined for four hits and a plus-3 rating.
"I didn't get a final count on his minutes, but I thought he looked confident, looked good, made some plays," coach Dan Bylsma
said of Despres. "I thought it gave him a lot of confidence as the game went on and he was playing against some good players in tough situations. I thought he looked strong and aggressive. We needed those guys to play against good players and they did."
Added Penguins forward Matt Cooke
: "That's a strength of our organization -- from top to bottom we try to play the same system, both in [Wilkes Barre-Scranton] and here. They've done the due diligence to make sure we have players who can come up and fill in."