Simon Despres doesn’t need to clear waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League, but that’s not the only reason this defenseman was assigned Thursday to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday that Despres’ play was not strong enough to force the club to keep him on the NHL roster.
“If he was in the top six … ” Bylsma said.
With Paul Martin close to returning from injury, the Penguins would have had nine healthy defensemen as soon as Monday for a home game against Florida.
“That would leave three out of the lineup, and that’s not a situation we’re going to have Simon be in at this time,” Bylsma said.
Despres, 22, a 2009 first-round draft pick, somewhat surprisingly began the season with Wilkes-Barre. He has good size and a flair for the offensive side of the game, but he was instructed to concentrate heavily on the defensive aspects of his game while in the AHL. He was recalled in late November and played in 15 games in a row.
Since then, however, he was a lineup scratch in five of the past eight games.
“Going down, I think the message is the same,” Bylsma said. “He played probably a stretch of his best hockey here defending, being consistent defending, and that’s where his game has to be. He has to continue to, as a pro, work at it and be better at it.”
Despres has four assists and an even plus-minus rating in 18 NHL games this season.
The Penguins had a rare two days in a row off from practice Thursday and Friday, and they enjoyed the respite.
“Nice to get a chance to recharge a bit,” center Sidney Crosby said. “Our schedule’s been pretty busy this year. When you get a Christmas break, it doesn’t feel quite as relaxing necessarily as this one because you’re traveling. To get two full days was good for everybody, physically and mentally.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said he relaxed, attended a charity event and went with his wife, Veronique, to get their infant daughter Estelle’s ears pierced.
“It’s been a little bit crazy, but definitely good [to get a break],” Fleury said. “We don’t have that much of a break in the schedule usually. It’s nice just to relax, get some energy back.”
The players had a postgame workout Wednesday night, then were advised to work out once off of the ice Thursday or Friday, Bylsma said.
A practice Saturday included lots of high-energy flow drills and an extended scrimmage. It lasted about 90 minutes, which was perhaps the longest of the season.
Bylsma blamed that on the players.
What was supposed to be a five-on-five scrimmage followed by a four-on-four scrimmage got extended at the request of the players because no one scored. The four-on-four portion lasted longer than planned and was followed by a three-on-three scrimmage and a two-on-two session before James Neal finally scored.
“We were working toward the one-on-one,” Bylsma said. “We didn’t get there.”
Injured forwards Beau Bennett, Brian Gibbons and Andrew Ebbett skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar before practice. … Bylsma, who will coach Team USA at the Sochi Winter Games next month, said he devoted “80 percent” of his time on the two-day break to Olympic preparation, and now will shift back full time to Penguins until the NHL’s Olympic break starts Feb. 8. … Most seasons, the Penguins have a fathers’ trip. This season, they are having a mothers’ trip for games Jan. 30 at Los Angeles and Feb. 1 at Phoenix. Mothers of the players and staff will travel with the team.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.