UPDATE: Michalek is out one month with broken finger. We'll revisit this post in one month. shit. No radio show probably. who knows. falsdnasmflsgalkmfgn
Ben Lovejoy vs. Deryk Engelland. Now that the blue-line corps is healthy and not in Shanny's Corner, Dan Bylsma is being forced to make his hardest decision on the early season. He's obviously going to flip-flop these two guys on a game-by-game basis this early in the season, but it doesn't have to be that way. One guy should get the nod, while the other waits for the former to commit a turnover that costs the Pens a game and then takes his place. Niskanen isn't in this discussion because he has no business being in the discussion.
We were gonna do some kind of mock trial-and-jury for this debate, except Internet bylaws state you can only parody A Few Good Men three times before you have to retire from the World Wide Web. Instead, we're just gonna lay out our case for both Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland. There's a poll at the end of this post, and we'll also be having a one-hour radio show tonight dedicated solely to this Lovejoy vs. Engelland debate. Crosby will probably announce his comeback game or something, and it will derail our plans. But as for now, 8:00pm to 9:00pm on our radio station. All Lovejoy/Engelland, all the time. Check back here around 7:30 or so for all the details on the show.
Read More for a breakdown of Lovejoy vs. Engelland...
Here's Ben Lovejoy's game log so far this season. Calculate the +/-, and Lovejoy has zeroes across the board. It's kind of what you expect from a sixth d-man: get on the ice, do your job, don't take penalties, get off the ice. A bonus for a sixth d-man is getting some time on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, Lovejoy has seen a total of 1:21 on the PK this season.
And then here comes Deryk Engelland. He has contributed handsomely to the NHL's number-one PK unit this season. Never mind Lovejoy's total PK time of 1:21 this season. Engelland averages 1:31 of PK time per game*. This is no joke. And this is a huge difference in PK TOI between the two players. Every member of the Pens PK unit is there for a reason. They get the job done in crunch time. From our computer chairs, this gives Engelland an enormous edge over Lovejoy, especially since Lovejoy has failed to register a single point so far this season.
And we haven't even gotten to what's synonymous with Deryk Engelland: banging bodies. He's definitely proven himself to be an NHL heavyweight, but he picks his spots. Last season when the Pens refused to lose in November/December, Engelland was dropping the gloves every night. But when the big boys went down and the Pens had to scratch out some wins down the stretch, Deryk Engelland's gloves stayed on; the Pens couldn't afford to be short a defenseman in tight one-goal games. He's young and was undoubtedly told by Bylsma not to fight. And this is not a guy who isn't in control of his emotions on the ice. He's not some thug. He's not taking stupid retaliatory slashing penalties in front of Fleury. He just does his job and takes guys' numbers for later in the game. He is physical and doesn't take shit from grinders on the boards.
*To be fair, we have to note that last season, Lovejoy saw an average of 0:53 per game on the PK while Engelland saw an average of 0:29. The Penguins' PK was first overall in the NHL last season, at 86.1%.
-Also, if you're in the Deryk Engelland mood, The Hockey News has a "Before I Made It" featuring Engo. [ THN ]
Thanks to Kristen K. for that link.
Remember: when the big guns come back and get acclimated to playing again, this Penguins team is expected to be a well-oiled juggernaut machine running on all cylinders. The secondary and tertiary forwards have shown in this first handful of games that they can get the job done, carrying the team if need be. And the defense is picking up right where they left off last season, with the team GAA currently sitting at 2.10, seventh-best in the NHL, and that's with teams above them having 2, 3, and even 4 less games in their sample size. All of this with Lovejoy and Engelland in the lineup for the most part. But one of them's gonna have to sit.
Don't get us wrong. We don't hate Lovejoy. He doesn't make us want to burn our houses down. He's a serviceable defenseman. But it's a crowded blue line. Someone's got to take a seat. And from the 10-game sample size thus far, we're taking Engo. It's pretty much a unanimous decision on our part: Eric P., Rick, Adam, and Derek all going with Engo. And we usually love to play devil's advocate and pick one side of the debate just for the hell of it. But we're all Engo, all day.
Here's the poll. And there will be a one-hour radio show tonight about this debate. Link will be up at 7:30. Show starts at 8:00. Bring the artillery.