When Brooks Orpik returned to the lineup from his hand injury March 27, the Penguins had to decide who would serve as sixth defenseman. They chose Ben Lovejoy, who’s been in the lineup ever since. Deryk Engelland, on the other hand, has been the odd man out – a healthy scratch the past five games.
Have the Pens made the right choice? It’s easy to say they have. Lovejoy had the team’s lone regulation goal in their win March 27 against Florida and had an assist in the team’s win April 2 against the Panthers. He’s been impressive at times and plays a solid overall game. Lovejoy has been more productive than Engelland this season, with 15 points in 45 games. Engelland has 10 points in 16 more games and has played to a minus-6, second worst on the team.
But there’s more to this game than stats, and that’s where you have to look to answer the question above.
Engelland, without a doubt, is the more physical player. He is, without question, the tougher player. The intangibles Engelland brings to the defense can’t be found on the stat sheet. More importantly, the style of game played is going to change starting next week. And those intangibles Engelland brings just might serve the Pens well in the playoffs, where every team needs all the grit and nastiness it can muster.
The playoffs are a grind, and nearly every game is a war of attrition. A player of Engelland’s pedigree can be of great service. He is more than capable of taking a regular shift, and he is rarely a liability. But it’s his physical play that really matters. To be clear, this isn’t about his fighting prowess. There’s little to no fighting in the postseason. But it doesn’t hurt that Engelland CAN fight, and it doesn’t hurt that opponents know that he can.
The Pens are not going to ask their sixth defenseman to play a lot of minutes in the postseason. Lovejoy might be the better overall player; he’s certainly more talented offensively. I don’t think there’s a bad choice. Both players have proven they can handle the job. But who would you rather have in a hard-fought series? It’s a tough call; one the Pens will have to make soon.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane…