Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets have themselves dynamic duo in Buffstrom

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IN the realm of power couples, there's no matching the past headlines of Bennifer or Brangelina.

It's not quite Hollywood, but the Winnipeg Jets have their own dynamic duo. Even when they try to break them up these days, defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom always seem to end up back together.

Should they be known as Buffstrom? Maybe Dustoby?

On Friday against St. Louis, they started the game split up as defensive partners but found themselves reunited again, and in time to deliver some big plays in the Jets' 4-3 comeback shootout win.

In particular, Byfuglien threaded the needle to Enstrom across the slot for the game-tying goal at 18:06 of the third period.

And there's no arguing the impact the duo has had on the team early this season. While some forwards have struggled to produce, today, Byfuglien and Enstrom share the top rung on the Jets' scoring chart, each with seven points in eight games.

After Friday's win over the Blues, Jets coach Claude Noel concurred the current version of Byfuglien is the best so far in Winnipeg.

"I think that Dustin has played real well," Noel said. "He's been way more consistent. He's doing some things with a better understanding of what we wanted than in the past.

"He's had flashes and a little bit of flair, and to me he's taken out a little of the flair, which is the high-risk flair, and he's given us more consistency."

Noel used the words Byfuglien and leadership in the same sentence after Saturday's practice, and this is progress on that front.

"The big thing with him is that he's a guy that likes to have fun in the game," the coach said. "He really likes to play and likes to practice... providing it's enjoyable, but I think the big thing for him is that he's enjoying the competition and he's taking the game much more in a leadership role, as in he's leading with his play and the consistency in his play.

"You watch him, he's physical, very engaged in the game and very focused. He's doing some things we've talked about in the past. He's doing it way more consistently; has taken some things out of his game that has helped him.

"I think he's done really well there and it shows. When he's going, our team gets going."

With 31 minutes 37 seconds of ice time on Friday, Byfuglien led that way there, too.

Enstrom, who had 24:25, made his first goal of the season an important one.

"Toby, I thought he was very good last night," Noel said. "He's a guy who creates offence. We'd like him to shoot more. Last night he got five shots on net (tops on the Jets) and we thought that was spectacular, because he's more of a non-shoot guy.

"But has a good shot and we saw that last night. So his contributions come in different ways. If he continues to skate and have the puck on his stick and make his shot and pass... then I think we can see he can be at the top of our team scoring-wise."

Byfuglien's key pass, with the Blues a bit too collapsed in their defensive zone, is not a play just anyone can make.

"He can make those passes," Noel added. "That's a tough pass to execute, but he can make those. He's got a high skill level. We get to expect those things especially when, for me, he's had eight good games."

Neither Byfuglien nor Enstrom were available to speak to reporters on Saturday.

NOTES: The Jets had just a short practice Saturday as they prepared for Nashville.

Missing at the Iceplex workout were Jacob Trouba (neck), Mark Stuart (hip), Dustin Byfuglien (maintenance), Jim Slater (maintenance), Bryan Little (maintenance), Michael Frolik (maintenance).

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2013 B5

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