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Insider Only Engelland’s defensive play against “skilled players” has caught the eye of his coach

Tuesday Report: Engelland locks down spot in Top-6
Injuries keep piling up on the Penguins blueline but the team is hopeful at some point during their road trip, maybe as early as Wednesday night, to get their top-6 blueliners together on the ice for the first time since opening night against Philadelphia.
Defensemen Kris Letang (wrist) has a minor wrist injury but will try to give it ago tomorrow night. Letang participated fully in today’s practice and his injury is just a situation of playing with some pain.
“There is a pain when I get a pass, and it vibrates in my fingers and my hands, ” Letang said. “It won’t get worse. It’s just a question of time to feel comfortable.”
Meanwhile, Alex Goligoski sat out for the second straight practice but is fully expected to play tomorrow. Goligoski has been bothered of late by a nagging lower body injury.
If Letang and Goligoski are able to play, the Penguins will have their top-6 intact, as defenseman Zbynek Michalek will return to the lineup Wednesday night. Michalek has missed 9 straight games due to a right shoulder injury and has not appeared in a game since October 11th.
“I’m ready to go, ” Michalek said. “Good practice today and I felt good.”
The Penguins spent big on revamping their defense this off-season, giving Michalek a 5 year deal worth $20 million and Paul Martin $25 million over 5 years, and the belief inside the organization is that the Penguins have one of the best defensive units in the National Hockey League.
A month into the season, the Penguins are now hopeful they can develop some continuity on their blueline and establish themselves as one of the best defensive teams in the league with the defensive minded Michalek back into the fold.
“Obviously not the start I wanted coming into a new team but it happened, I have to get back on track, ” Michalek said. “It’s probably going to be hard to get back in there after such a long break but I’ll do my best to slowly get back into game shape.”
When the Penguins opened the season, the thought process was to have two No. 1 pairings with Brooks Orpik – Zbynek Michalek as a pairing and Paul Martin-Kris Letang together.
Although Michalek and Orpik worked together as a pairing in today’s practice, the emergence of Deryk Engelland has the coaching staff rethinking their initial plan, at least for the short-term.

Dan Bylsma made it clear today that Paul Martin and Kris Letang will remain together but Orpik staying with Engelland remains a strong possibility despite Michalek returning to the lineup.
“We like our 7 and 56 pair, and 4 and 44 were together, and we could possibly see 3 {Goligoski and Michalek} together, ” Bylsma said when asked about his D-pairs.
“Orpik was working well with Engelland last game. And Engelland has been playing really well, being able to play against some of the more skilled players in the league. So we’ll see who we get, but that would give you an early indication of what it would look like.
Bylsma’s high praise of Engelland today, was a clear sign that Engelland has locked down a top-6 spot and Ben Lovejoy is now the No. 7 defenseman, a role reversal on how the players entered training camp.
However, Engelland developing into one of the league’s toughest fighters is not the reason he is becoming a player the coaching staff believes it can count on, and be put into situations to shut down the oppositions top players.
“I think the game that’s clearest in my mind, it’s been a while now, but he’s done it since then as well, was when we were in New Jersey and he was knocking Kovalchuk and Parise around in the corner, ” Bylsma said. “Then Kovalchuk was in the offensive zone and was worried about hitting Engelland and not worried about scoring a goal. That was evidence that this guy can go out and play, and play physical and be a presence against good skill players. He’s done that in virtually every game he’s played.”
“He’s knocking down Cole last game in the corner twice on a shift, and when you put out a guy who can be that presence and play good defense against good players, he’s going to get an opportunity to do that, because that affects those skill players and makes them uncomfortable.”

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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