Defenseman Matt Niskanen became the first Penguin to miss a game this season because of injury when he sat out the game Tuesday night against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center because of what is believed to be a right ankle injury.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Niskanen would remain out two to four weeks.
Niskanen, who wore an orthopedic boot while his teammates had their morning skate, was hurt Sunday in the 2-1 shootout win at Ottawa.
He had a goal and two assists in five games.
Despres helps to fill vacancy
Rookie defenseman Simon Despres slid into Niskanen's spot, playing alongside Kris Letang at times and manning one point on the second power-play unit.
Despres, a first-round draft pick in 2010, played the first three games this season before yielding his lineup spot to Ben Lovejoy.
"I'm just want to prove I can play and stay in the lineup every day," said Despres, who in 21 career NHL games, has a power-play goal and four assists.
Bylsma said the deficiency in Despres' game is "his consistency, being ready for the different situations, the execution level. Occasionally, Simon looks to make an extra play, an extra stickhandle. That's part of what we talked about to him and video he's seen.
"He did some good things for us when he was in the lineup. He wasn't reprimanded when he got out of the lineup."
Despres had no points and a plus-minus rating of minus-1 in the first three games.
In those games, he was paired with Deryk Engelland, a steady defensive player with a physical edge. Letang is a much different partner with skill and loads of speed.
"He's an exceptionally good defenseman," Despres said. "He talks a lot. He's easy to play with."
For anyone wondering, Letang talks to Despres in English, even though both are French-Canadian.
Strait finds good niche
Despres doesn't require waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League, but just before the season started, the Penguins decided to keep him and expose defenseman Brian Strait to waivers with the intent of demoting him.
The New York Islanders poached Strait off of waivers and made him a regular.
"You get cut from a team, it's disappointing," Strait said. "But once I found out, I was ecstatic. I couldn't be happier, knowing that I was going to be able to play in the NHL. It's been a great fit so far."
Strait went into the game Tuesday with no points and a minus-1 rating while averaging nearly 18 minutes of ice time a game. Lately, he has been paired with Islanders captain Mark Streit, a strong two-way player.
That might drive broadcasters a little crazy, tracking players whose names sound like "straight" and "strite," but Strait is thrilled.
"He's amazing," he said of Streit. "He does unbelievable things with the puck, things that I can't do. Anytime he gets a chance to jump up in the play, just let him go and try to have his back."
Strait, a fourth-round draft pick in 2006, played in 12 games with the Penguins over the past two seasons, mostly as an injury recall.
"Any call-up I had the last couple of years, I was playing sparingly -- 12 minutes, 10 minutes," he said. "I'm getting a good opportunity here.
"It's nice when you have a coaching staff that shows trust in you. It was a different situation the last couple of years, only playing for 10 minutes and not knowing if I was going to go back out for another shift after I made a mistake."
Watching those hits
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was asked about a leveling hit Saturday by San Jose's Brad Stuart that left Colorado star Gabriel Landeskog with a head injury. Landeskog won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year last season.
"It looked like a little bit of an elbow, but I'm sure [the NHL] looked at it a lot closer than I did," said Crosby, who had concussion and neck problems that lasted more than a year.
"It's one of those plays ... Brad Stuart is known for stepping up in the neutral zone. You've got to be aware of that. I'm sure Landeskog is looking at that one probably not too happy with himself. Reaching for the puck there is always kind of dangerous, but that's part of the game."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published January 30, 2013 5:00 AM