Engelland's return would boost Penguins defense

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- For much of his career, Deryk Engelland was a name on his organization's depth chart.

And nowhere near the top of it.

Over the past couple of seasons, he has developed into a capable No. 5 or 6 defenseman for the Penguins, established himself as a reliable contributor at this level.

But, given the current state of their defense corps, Engelland --who has missed the past two games because of an unspecified injury -- is awfully close to qualifying as a difference-maker, which is why the Penguins are hoping to have him back in the lineup when they face the New York Islanders at 7:08 p.m. today at Nassau Coliseum.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Penguins at New York Islanders, 7:08 p.m. today, Nassau Coliseum.
  • TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Al Montoya for Islanders.
  • Penguins: Are 2-0 against Islanders, including 3-0 victory Oct. 25 at Coliseum. ... C Jordan Staal does not have an assist in the past 10 games. ... Will be trying to avoid losing three consecutive games in regulation for first time this season.
  • Islanders: Have gone 4-0-2 in past six games. ... LW Matt Martin leads NHL with 117 hits. ... Are being outscored, 29-15, in third period this season.
  • Hidden stat: Islanders C John Tavares has assisted on 12 of RW Matt Moulson's 14 goals.

Yet another opening was created on their defense Thursday night, when Philadelphia's Zac Rinaldo delivered a hit that left Robert Bortuzzo -- summoned Nov. 29 from Wilkes-Barre because of injuries to the likes of Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek (to say nothing of long-term casualties such as Ben Lovejoy and Brian Strait) -- with what coach Dan Bylsma described as "concussion-like symptoms."

He offered no timetable for Bortuzzo's return, but it won't happen tonight.

And while it might be a bit much to take for granted that Engelland will be ready to face the Islanders, he acknowledged after practice Friday at the Coliseum that having so many defensemen injured adds to the urgency he feels to return as quickly as possible.

Or, more accurately, as quickly as is prudently possible.

"We'll see how it feels [today]," he said. "I can't tell how it's going to react ... no matter what, you want to be playing, but to maybe rush back for one game and miss a month, it's not worth it. I'll just see how it feels and go from there.

If Engelland is unable to play against the Islanders, Bylsma said the Penguins will recall a defenseman from Wilkes-Barre, and cited Carl Sneep and Philip Samuelsson as two candidates.

"They've been logging a lot of minutes down there and have progressed really nicely," he said.

The Penguins depth on defense might be their greatest organizational asset, but it has been tested in a way they couldn't have imagined going into the season.

Letang, Michalek, Lovejoy and Strait are on injured reserve at the moment, and Paul Martin is the only one of the 11 defensemen they have used this season who has appeared in all 29 games.

"In the offseason, you look at depth charts and where players fit in," Bylsma said. "When you go down the list and have six [or] seven in Pittsburgh and six, seven, eight in Wilkes-Barre, you don't think that you're necessarily going to get to the 15th guy. But we're getting close to there now."

Engelland has missed fewer games than anyone on the blue line except Martin and Matt Niskanen, but even sitting out two is unusual for him. He has proven to be as durable as he is rugged.

"Deryk's a guy who, in my relationship with him, had never been injured, had never missed a game in Wilkes-Barre," said assistant coach Todd Reirden, who oversees the Penguins defense and worked with Engelland in the American Hockey League.

"This is something, when dealing with him and how he plays through injuries, I'm used to him always being in the lineup."

Nonetheless, he said putting Engelland back in uniform before it's certain he has recovered fully will not be considered.

"We won't push him back," Reirden said. "When he's ready to play, he'll play. Certainly, he's part of our long-term success here. We don't want to do something that would cause him to miss more time down the line."

While there's little doubt that Engelland's toughness and overall solid play would provide a valuable upgrade to the defense, the Penguins have gotten generally good work from recent call-ups like Bortuzzo, fellow rookie Simon Despres and veteran Alexandre Picard.

The Penguins have been careful to not force-feed too much to Despres, who is 20 and one of the organization's top prospects, but his ice time and comfort level have risen steadily over his four games in the NHL. Although he will benefit from additional time to develop in the NHL, it's easy to see why he's viewed as such a significant piece of the franchise's future.

"He's getting a crash course [in playing at this level]," Bylsma said.

"It's not going to stop."

Not until Engelland -- and likely another injured defenseman or two -- returns to active duty.

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @molinaripg.


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