With the team’s top four defensemen out for Saturday’s game in Detroit, caution should’ve been the rule of the day for the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blueline corps.
Apparently Deryk Engelland doesn’t subscribe to that theory. His shoulder-to-head check on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader not only put the Penguins down a man for five minutes, but also earned him a match penalty and a trip to the dressing room for the rest of the night.
According to USA Today hockey reporter Mike Brehm, the illegal hit got the attention of the NHL’s supplemental discipline department, which has scheduled an in-person hearing with Engelland on Wednesday to discuss the play and possibly levy a significant suspension.
Here’s the hit, which featured the rugged Engelland drilling Abdelkader’s jaw in the neutral zone after the Red Wings forward chipped a loose puck into the Pittsburgh zone:
As Brehm notes, the 31-year-old Engelland has been suspended once in his four-plus seasons in the NHL. He was docked two games for a high hit on Marcus Kruger of Chicago in November 2011, an incident that won’t put him in the “repeat offender” category since it occurred more than 18 months ago.
But as Pittsburgh winger James Neal can attest, just because previous supplemental discipline happened beyond the NHL’s double-down window doesn’t mean it won’t be a factor in player safety chief Brendan Shanahan‘s decision. Neal, who got one game off for an illegal hit in the 2012 playoffs, is currently serving a five-game suspension for a knee to the head of Boston’s Brad Marchand on Dec. 7.
Since Engelland’s hearing is in person instead of over the phone, the NHL reserves the right to suspend him for six games or more, although it doesn’t necessarily have to do so. Maybe Shanahan simply wants to send a stronger message to Engelland, who often plays on the borderline of legality, without sitting him down more than five games.
A suspension to Engelland would further strain the Penguins’ limited blueline depth. Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang all missed Saturday’s 4-1 win over Detroit with injuries, forcing Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma to turn to less-experienced defenders. Veteran Matt Niskanen played nearly 30 minutes in the game, while youngsters Olli Maatta, Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres and Brian Dumoulin skated for more than 20 apiece.
Judging by the nature of Engelland’s hit and how strongly the NHL has been coming down on checking to the head, the Pens will probably have to dig even deeper into their highly-regarded defensive pipeline.