Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big Buff back in his comfort zone

Released from Noel's doghouse, Byfuglien will play D against Flyers

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Since he is literally the team's biggest star, it's daytime drama when anything is going on with Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien.

Friday's episode after the team's optional skate -- even though Byfuglien was not present on the ice -- revealed the latest plot twist.

Byfuglien, even though he appeared briefly in the coach Claude Noel's doghouse late in Thursday's 4-1 loss in Montreal, will be a main player today when the Jets meet the Philadelphia Flyers at the MTS Centre.

And at his usual spot as a defenceman.

"Dustin will be a defenceman, which he is for us, and he will be a good defenceman for us," Noel proclaimed on Friday.

Byfuglien found himself at forward, on the right side of Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd in a desperate move Tuesday night against the Islanders. He began Thursday's game in Montreal there, then was moved to defence for a short time in the third period, then to the bench for a long stretch to finish the game.

Noel made it clear Thursday and again Friday that lack of attention to defensive details was the reason the 28-year-old force was sat down for a long stretch.

He ended Thursday with just 15 minutes 55 seconds of ice time, nearly nine minutes below his normal and his lowest total of the season.

"You're trying to win games," Noel said. "In the case of Dustin in front of the net, we've gone down the road before. I'm not going to keep it going. You're going to help us or not."

The hammer of ice time does not mean communication has been severed, Noel said.

"I talk to Dustin all the time as I do with all our players," the coach said. "I don't sit down and have a specific conversation with them all the time. This runs differently. It depends on the player.

"The players clearly know what needs to be done and what responsibility (there is). In the case of Dustin, I think it's very clear."

Noel has said it many times this season and repeated it again Friday, that his abundant lineup moves throughout the season don't revolve around a specific player.

In Byfuglien's case, he thought moving him to forward could provide a spark, which never really amounted to anything tangible.

"Yeah, we were just trying to get things unclogged a little," he said. We'll just move him to the back where I think he feels comfortable and we'll be ready to go."

The switches and swaps could also find the Jets normal top line of Blake Wheeler, Little and Ladd back together today.

"It's possible," the coach said. "The thing we're trying to do is unclog some things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

"You're searching for things, trying to find these things. Like I said before, there's manual, there's no 'Turn to Page 8 or 10 and here's what you do.' You've got to sort it out and sometimes players have to sort it out. You're always searching to find ways.

"My search isn't so much for the goals or that type of production. We're looking for more of a cohesive team game."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 C3

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