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Buff takes a shine to playing wing

Desperation the mother of invention as D-man up

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NEW YORK -- Desperate measures... meet your Winnipeg Jets. And Jets fans, meet your new power forward -- Dustin Byfuglien.

It might be temporary, it might be permanent -- Claude Noel isn't sure yet -- but the Jets coach made the dramatic move of moving Byfuglien from defence to right wing in Tuesday's loss in an attempt to jumpstart an attack that is flat-lining. Byfuglien played wing on the team's top line with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd while Blake Wheeler moved onto a unit with Evander Kane and Olli Jokinen.

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The move didn't result in any goals, but could carry over to Thursday's game in Montreal.

"I was just trying to get something going," Noel said. "When you look at the way the game was going and the way we were playing with the lines... it was a difficult task. There was no cohesiveness whatsoever. It was hard to find guys that I could put out there so we had to try to generate something. Quite frankly, I thought he played quite well up front for not having played there and such a short notice. We didn't end up winning the game, but I thought he gave us a chance.

"We've got to win games. I'll determine (whether Byfuglien will remain up front) later, I'm not going to determine that tonight. We'll see how it goes. But we've got to win games, that's the bottom line and that's what our task has been for some time."

All of this isn't new to Byfuglien, of course. He was a dominant force at forward in the Chicago Blackhawks' run to a Stanley Cup in 2009-10.

"Coach just came up and said you're going up to forward," said Byfuglien. "I'll do whatever I have to do to help this team out."

Challenges

Byfuglien said there are some quite obvious challenges with moving from defence, but didn't seem set against it, either -- at least, not with a horde of media and cameras staring him in the face.

"I'm not out of my element by any means going up there. Team's first," he said. "(The adjustments are) getting on the forecheck, getting a read off your guys, your teammates, your linemates. Everyone plays a little different and you have to learn to read off them and what they look to do first. It's one of the things that doesn't take long to get used to."

Jets captain Andrew Ladd played with Byfuglien when they won a championship in Chicago and knows that no matter where he is on the ice he can be a difference maker. But to see him up front does speak of the funk this team is in right now.

"He's a special player in that he can play both positions and knows how to do that," said Ladd. "He's won a Stanley Cup at that position and was one of our best forwards in doing that. He's a valuable guy for us and he'll play wherever he's told.

"To create offence, to me, you've got to do it as a group of five. And that's working together and if you only have one guy up or two guys and the third guy or the second guy is not there, it's easy for the other team to get going the other way and get on the breakout and get back in our end. Buff going up there is probably a way to try and find some offence. He's a big guy that can get on the forecheck and he's tough to handle down low which is something we need right now."

CLITSOME OK: Jets D-man Grant Clitsome was back on the ice Tuesday morning, but did not play in the game, after taking a stick in the eye in Monday's loss to the Rangers. He saw a specialist Tuesday after having the eye stitched up Monday night.

"Once I saw (the specialist) and he fully cleared me and said there were no scratches or damage to my eyeball... that was really good news," said Clitsome. "It feels good. My peripheral vision is not great because of the swelling. Under my eyelid it's split, so it kind of feels like I have eyelashes in my eye and that feeling just makes my eyes water and it makes it hard to get clear vision."

Clitsome does wear a visor, but the stick came up underneath it to hit his eye.

"Any time your eyes are in question it's really scary," he said. "Even just getting the stitches that close to my eye last night was scary. I'm very fortunate it wasn't worse."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2013 D2

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