Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Buff just 'sitting around a lot' now

Big D-man opens up on ice-time decline

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THERE'S some tension in the matter of Dustin Byfuglien's ice time in the Winnipeg Jets' last two games.

"It felt like I was sitting around a lot," was Byfuglien's fairly short response Sunday morning after an optional skate at the MTS Centre. "It wasn't my decision. It was theirs."

The decision amounted to 17 minutes 48 seconds in the 4-1 win Saturday over the Philadelphia Flyers. That came on the heels of a season-low 15 minutes 55 seconds for the big Jets defenceman Thursday in Montreal, when head coach Claude Noel moved him from forward back to defence during the game, then sat him for a long stretch to end the night.

Noel sometimes washes over issues, including injuries, claiming he doesn't know much or have anything to add.

But regarding Byfuglien's ice time, he didn't dodge much other than to suggest assistant coach Charlie Huddy was doling out the minutes.

"Well, whatever," was the start to Noel's response. "It's what we deemed he needed or we needed. We won the game.

"He didn't need to play 30 to win or to lose. Charlie is the one who managed the minutes with the defence. A lot of it's dictated by a lot of different things. You're trying to win the game, first of all. You do what you have to do. His play's been so-so, so that's how it goes."

Four times this season, the Jets have used Byfuglien more than 28 minutes in a game and his ice-time average is 24:22. He remains their highest-scoring defenceman, with 21 points.

Byfuglien suggested there hasn't been a lot of conversation recently about his minutes or his play.

"Everyone chats a little bit, but for the most part, no," Byfuglien said.

The matter was raised of his being moved to right wing during the game Tuesday on Long Island, then moved back to defence for the third period Thursday in Montreal.

Could it be causing some confusion, some inconsistency?

"Yeah, it's something that's not easy -- to focus on D, and then next game you have to try to focus on forward and not have any practice to get comfortable at forward or anything," Byfuglien said.

"It's just a matter of going out and trying to do it, trying to read the game from that point of view, and it's not the easiest thing to do.

"It's part of the game. Sometimes you're going, sometimes you're not. Sometimes other guys have to step up and do their part, too, and I thought we've been getting that lately."

Just to be clear, Byfuglien said defence is where he prefers to play.

"I've always preferred to be a defenceman," he said. "Forward was just something I just did."

He discounted the possibility of any mixed messages within the team.

"I think everyone knows what they need to do," he said. "It's just a matter of getting things back on track."

A more palatable schedule -- the team's next five games are at home -- should help the team and himself, Byfuglien hinted.

"It's going to be nice to be able to settle down and get settled in at home again instead of coming home for a day or two, then having to pack and go back on the road," he said. "We can't get too comfortable. We've still got a job to do and games to win."

He cited Saturday's rally to beat the Flyers as a key moment for the team.

"It's big," he said. "It's something that no team wants to get in that many of a loss streak, and it's something that I thought we found a way to battle out of it and do a good job."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2013 C1

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