Here's an interesting scenario to consider: is Ben Lovejoy gonna stick with the Penguins for good?
After last Thursday's embarassing 7-4 loss to Philadelphia, head coach Dan Bylsma was asked about Martin Skoula, who only played 4:25 (and was on the ice for two goals against). Bylsma said it was a coaching decision, not an injury. Then the following game when Brooks Orpik got injured, instead of just dressing Skoula, as the Pes have done all season when there's been a defensive injury, they chose to call-up Lovejoy.
That Skoula is mired in the doghouse is a given at this point. But has Lovejoy jumped him enough to become the full-time 7th defenseman and member of the NHL team? After the jump, let's look at some of the factors involved.
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Waivers and age
As you can see, Lovejoy is no spring chicken for an NHL prospect, as he'll be turning 26 next month -- in fact he's only 9 days younger than Maxime Talbot. So Lovejoy would have to pass through waivers if the Penguins wanted to send him back to the minors. Lovejoy did pass through waivers unclaimed at the end of training camp, but during that week many players were on the wire. In mid-season, there are injuries and only a player or two a day on the waiver wire, meaning Lovejoy could be more intruiging.
Play and chances to play
Lovejoy's played the 10 games in the NHL this year, he's averaging 16:47 per game, but in this current stint he's only played 13:10 and 11:40 in the two games up. Earlier in the season he was playing more, since there were more injuries, but the coaching staff is protecting him and only giving him minimal minutes. However Lovejoy's plus/minus has been great and indicitive of the decisions he's made with the puck and his ability to keep play moving out of his own zone. He'll never be an offensive dynamo at this level, but as long as he plays within his abilities he'll be fine.
Orpik is skating and likely will be back in the lineup in the next week, barring any setbacks. Lovejoy is not going to crack the top six defensemen, so as long as there's no injuries, he's unlikely to play. However, as we've seen, the Penguins haven't been able to keep their top six healthy.
Cap space is at a premium and soon there will be 8 healthy defensemen. If Lovejoy stays, does that mean veteran Martin Skoula's time in Pittsburgh is at its end? Skoula is the only regular Penguin defenseman to be a minus in the plus/minus column (even if it's only a -1) and Bylsma has obviously not been happy with his play.
With all the injuries Pittsburgh's suffered this season, potentially losing Skoula or Lovejoy on waivers might be damaging if/when another batch of defensive players go down. 8 is not a happy number, it means two regulars are scratched on a nightly basis and it zaps a small bit of precious cap room.
It'll be up to Ray Shero and Bylsma to decide: have they seen enough good out of Lovejoy to keep him? Are they prepared to waive either Skoula or Lovejoy? Expect these questions to be answered as situations unfold over the next week or so. If Lovejoy continues to play well, he very might have cracked the NHL for good.