Deryk Engelland earned a full-time spot among Penguins defensemen this season not only because of sound positional play and a physical edge, but because he proved he can fight at an enforcers' level. But he hasn't fought since Feb. 10.
Ben Lovejoy stuck with the Penguins as a seventh defenseman, which meant sitting out for stretches of time. But he hasn't missed a game since Feb. 20.
Roles for the two defensemen have changed recently, and that's more than fine by them.
"Everything -- more minutes, different situations, [penalty killing], playing against the top two lines more," Engelland said. "It's been good. It's a new challenge. It's been a lot of fun. It's good to play more minutes."
"This is fun," Lovejoy said. "Playing way bigger minutes than I'm used to against more skilled top lines is a blast. This is something that I've looked forward to for a long time."
Two things changed the dynamics of the Penguins' defensive corps.
Alex Goligoski was traded to Dallas on Feb. 21, with defenseman Matt Niskanen one of two players the Penguins received in return.
Two nights after the trade, Brooks Orpik was sidelined in a 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose with a broken right index finger that is expected to keep him out for most of the rest of the regular season.
While the Penguins have worked Niskanen into the mix and regrouped without Orpik, Engelland and Lovejoy have spent some time expanding their horizons.
Starting with the game in which Orpik was injured, Engelland has topped 19 minutes in four of six games. He had not reached 19 minutes before that. He has switched some between the right and left sides and for several games he played alongside Kris Letang, who this season has blossomed into one of the NHL's top defensemen.
Lovejoy logged a season-high 21 minutes, 33 seconds the night Orpik got hurt and a season-high 29 shifts Feb. 26 at Toronto. He has played in seven consecutive games, his longest stretch since appearing in 11 consecutive games in October because of injuries to Orpik and Zbynek Michalek.
Engelland and Lovejoy's minutes dropped in Saturday's 3-2 overtime win at Boston, when they formed the third defensive pair for the first time. Lovejoy played 10:52, Engelland, 11:21.
It's not known what pairings coach Dan Bylsma will employ Tuesday when Buffalo visits Consol Energy Center. The Penguins had the day off Sunday.
It's clear, though, that Lovejoy, 27, and Engelland, who turns 29 in a few weeks, will have regular and significant roles for the foreseeable future. They are finishing their first full NHL season after playing top roles with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League the past few years.
"You had to put in your work when you weren't playing," said Lovejoy, who was in uniform for 25 of the Penguins' first 60 games.
"It's not fun getting killed and getting 'bag skated' every day, but this is why you do it -- so you are ready to play 19 or 22 minutes a game. And this is fun."
Lovejoy has a goal, nine points and a plus-minus rating of plus-6 in 32 games. He also has 41 blocked shots and 30 hits.
In 53 games, Engelland has three goals, nine points, is minus-7 (although he has been a minus just once the past eight games) and has 102 penalty minutes. He has 104 hits and 50 blocked shots.
Engelland's penalty minutes have been bolstered by 12 fighting majors, including eye-catching bouts early in the season against NHL heavyweights Colton Orr and Jody Shelley.
That has calmed down because Engelland feels a responsibility not to leave his team short-handed during the stretch drive.
"A lot depends on the game situation now, where at the beginning of the year you had all your top guys in," Engelland said. "Now, every point is huge. We have guys banged up, and a lot of the guys that you fight only play a couple minutes a game. You've got to pick your spots and try to not do too much."
The night Orpik's finger was injured, San Jose's Ryane Clowe challenged Engelland to drop the gloves in the third period. Engelland was tempted.
"I would have loved to that game," he said. "But with five [defensemen left in the game] ... I know they're in great shape, but four [defensemen] at that point in the game, that late, is tough."
It's a tradeoff Engelland is more than willing to make, especially since he is feeling good about his overall game.
"Even though it's the same plays, my confidence is up a little bit from the beginning of the season," he said.