Engelland on the swing lately for Penguins

It's no wonder the Penguins want Deryk Engelland in their lineup, even if it means playing the natural defenseman at right wing on the fourth line.

Since Engelland returned from a five-game suspension in late December, the Penguins are 13-1-1 when he's in the lineup, 0-2 when he's a healthy scratch.

It's not that Engelland single-handedly has boosted the Penguins past opponents because, among his nine points this season, only two goals and two assists have come in that 13-1-1 stretch.

But neither is he just a good-luck charm.

"Whether he's played forward or [defense] for us -- there have been games where he's played forward and then killed penalties on defense the last 15 games -- he adds to our team in what he brings," coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday.

Scouting report
Matchup: Penguins vs. New York Rangers, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.

Penguins: Are 16-1 in past 17 home games. ... Are 2-1 vs. Rangers. ... Chris Kunitz needs one goal for 200 in his career.

Rangers: Had won season-high four games in row before game Thursday night vs. Edmonton. ... Are 6-3 in second of back-to-back games. ... F Derick Brassard had four-game points streak (two goals, four assists) before facing the Oilers.
Hidden stat: The game against Edmonton was the 6,000th in the Rangers history.

In the 5-1 win Wednesday at Buffalo, Bylsma noted, Engelland helped nullify pesky Sabres center Steve Ott.

"[Ott] was running around and chirping and trying to do his thing, and Deryk goes right out and settles him down," Bylsma said.

Engelland also fought mammoth Buffalo enforcer John Scott.

"It helps our team win," Bylsma said of Engelland's presence. "He's got a physical presence with the way he plays and [what he] brings."

Bylsma hasn't revealed his lineup for the game against the New York Rangers tonight at Consol Energy Center, but, if Engelland is in the lineup, it will likely be as a winger.

The transition is ongoing.

"Every game, I'm getting a little better and a little more comfortable," Engelland said. "There's still a lot for me to learn and, I guess, overcome, but it's going in the right direction."

Converting a physical stay-at-home defenseman into a rugged, responsible fourth-line winger isn't an everyday undertaking.

"It's not simple at all," said Craig Adams, a regular linemate when Engelland plays forward. "At times, I think he's made it look pretty natural, pretty easy. It's just a credit to him. He's a smart player. He's played really well up there. If you didn't know he was a defenseman, I think you wouldn't be able to tell. He's done really well."

Not only are the assignments vastly different, but Engelland's view often is nearly opposite as a forward, and there is no skating backward.

"It's natural on [defense]," Engelland said. "You're way more comfortable on [defense] with the look you're getting, seeing the whole ice. On forward, you're still not 100 percent comfortable with all the situations. To go back on [defense] isn't too bad, but every game is still a work in progress.

"You're still thinking a lot [as a winger], trying to read -- if it's the forecheck, who's going and which one we're doing. It's still a little bit of a read for me instead of just react."

After the game tonight, the Penguins go on hiatus for the Olympics. Engelland is planning a trip to the Caribbean, but he won't be going over the X's and O's of playing winger.

"When I'm not practicing, I'm going to try not to think about hockey," he said. "Just spend some good family time, watch some of the [Olympic] games, but just get away from the [NHL] game for a week or so and then come back and refreshed and ready to go."

Engelland, 31, was an undrafted player who worked his way up through various minor league stops, including two full seasons with Penguins affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League before he finally broke in to the NHL by playing nine games for the Penguins in 2009-10.

He always has been a rugged player, willing to fight and stick up for his teammates. He always had to push and struggle to get into the NHL lineup and get ice time.

And he always has been a defenseman -- until this season.

Some nights, he only gets a few sniffs of the ice. In the 2-1 overtime home win Monday night against Ottawa, Engelland played 6 minutes, 5 seconds. Against Buffalo, even after spending five minutes in the penalty box after his fight, he played 11:10, his most time in a month.

Playing forward was more of an occasional thing earlier in the season, when the Penguins endured a long list of injuries to defensemen. Now, it seems as if his path to the lineup runs through the fourth line. Even with Kris Letang sidelined lately by illness, there are six other defensemen -- Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo -- who seem to be ahead of Engelland.

"Deryk does ... help us win," Bylsma said. "That's why he's in there. That's why he's playing forward when he's not playing defense. If he's not going to be in the top six [defensemen], we still want him in our lineup."

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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