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Deryk Engelland earned a contact extension this season but didn't appear in any of the Penguins seven playoff games.
Pittsburgh may have the league's best defensive platoon from one to four.
Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang are the veterans on the team, both Penguins draft selections. Letang had a breakout season through the first two-thirds of 2010-11. Orpik, the longest tenured player on the team, has an influential voice inside the locker room and is a feared hitter on the ice.
Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek were snapped up on July 1 of last year, two of the most prominent free-agent acquisitions of Ray Shero's tenure in Pittsburgh. After being dropped by Montreal in the 2010 Conference semifinal series because of a perforated defensive corps, nine years and $45 million were sunk into the big name defensemen.
Pittsburgh went from 20th in total defense to sixth in just one year—at one point as high as second in total defense before a string of injuries hit the team.
The team's defense also boosted goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who last year experienced his finest season as a professional.
Questions remain as their concerns lie in the third defensive pairing.
Rather than acquire an aging veteran defenseman, as the team had previously done with the likes of Daryl Sydor and Jay McKee, rookie defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland made the team out of training camp.
The pairing represented themselves well during the regular season, even after the departure of offensive defenseman Alex Goligoski. Lovejoy and Engelland combined for 28 regular season points and a plus-six combined rating.
Matt Niskanen, acquired in the Goligoski trade, took Engelland's place during the playoffs. Lovejoy, a plus-11 during the regular season, had an even rating in seven playoff games, while Niskanen went minus-three with only one assist.
Lovejoy averaged 10:54 TOI during the postseason after averaging 15:00 TOI during the regular season.
It seemed like Bylsma lost faith in his last defensive pairing during the postseason series with Tampa Bay and perhaps, somewhat understandably, after the pair was torched by Martin St. Louis several times
For comparison, Orpik and Martin averaged over 24:00 TOI in those seven games, Letang more than 26:00 TOI and Michalek better than 27:00.
Many wondered why Engelland was not a participant in the last two games after Niskanen struggled in his own zone (Engelland is a stay-at-home defenseman), and it became a point of criticism following the 1-0 loss in Game 7.
Engelland and Lovejoy now have a full year of experience to their credits and each is signed for at least two more seasons. Cracks in their game may have been due to inexperience, and any shortcomings would certainly have been exposed by the highly skilled Tampa forwards.
It will be interesting to see how the pairing plays out next season. Lovejoy is the likely fifth starter, but the focus will be on how Byslma deploys the more defensive-minded Engelland and the more offensively-capable but defensively-unreliable Niskanen.