WINNIPEG — Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel has always been a member of the Dustin Byfuglien fan club.
But he stepped up his promotional campaign today in the wake of the defenceman’s performance in two road games that brought the Jets a point for a shootout loss, and a win — both on the road — so far this week.
Byfuglien played a game-high 30 minutes 27 seconds Monday in Boston and then added two assists while playing 26:18 on Tuesday in Washington, prompting Noel to even suggest the defenceman’s conditioning is better than many think.
"We mean to win when we get on the road," Noel said, asked if he meant to use Byfuglien that much this week. "We’re trying to manage minutes. We know that his conditioning level is good. With the situation that it is and was, we’re happy with him being able to log the minutes he’s getting.
"It’s always a question mark but it hasn’t been and he’s answered that. I think the thing that’s important with Byfuglien is that it’s not so much the minutes, it’s the consistency in his play and I think he’s been fabulous in the way he’s played as far as consistency."
Byfuglien has a goal and two assists for the 1-1-1 Jets so far this season and leads the team in average minutes per game played at 27:09.
"With him and (Toby) Enstrom, as we all know, Dustin can play that gunslinger type of game that keeps you on the edge of your seats in both ways and I think he’s cognizant of that and I think he’s managed his games really well," Noel said today, a day off for the Jets.
"With the short season, I think he knows we’re reliant on him. I think he recognized the urgency of wins. He also recognizes the impact he can have on games. When I say how reliant we are on him, I’m talking about his teammates on him and the accountability factor has matured. He’s got a big role in the leadership part of things and I think he has a great will to win. We’re seeing some of those things."
The Jets are home to Pittsburgh Friday night.