Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Quiet D-man Stuart earns kudos

Coach, defensive partner have nothing but good to say

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He isn't the kind of guy who seeks the spotlight, but Mark Stuart's new boss and defensive partner are more than willing to push him to centre stage and praise the heck out of the veteran Winnipeg Jets defenceman.

"He played well tonight, but he's played quietly really well," said head coach Paul Maurice. "We talk about (Jacob) Trouba and how well he's played... They're a pair that is working really well off each other. Some of the things we're trying to do in our end of the ice really help him, allow him to be aggressive.

"He's got some explosive gap-closing ability and when he gets there, he goes to finish and hit hard. So we're trying to put him in a position to be able to do that, and he's really excelled.

"There's a character guy," Maurice added. "There's your prototypical grinder and physically tough defenceman. It's nice he gets appreciated for that work."

Stuart's minutes have risen since Dustin Byfuglien was moved up front and he played 21 minutes and 37 seconds against Toronto Saturday night. Trouba, his partner, has been solid under Maurice and working alongside Stuart.

"He was great. I had a lot of turnovers (four), too many turnovers," Trouba said. "I have trust in him. He helped me every time. It's great playing with him and having him back there. He's a great defence partner. He's great in the D-zone. He'll block shots and do anything for his teammates and I'm proud to have a guy of that calibre be my partner. I'm proud to play with him and I want to stay with him. I think we play well together.

"He's got my back. He's got everyone's back on this team, and everyone in this locker-room knows that. That's just the kind of guy he is. He's a real standup guy who will be there for you."

OT CONFIDENCE: The man whose fingerprints are on Winnipeg's first three overtime victories this season didn't figure in the fourth frame Saturday night, but he was confident nonetheless.

"I think we're confident in our abilities four-on-four," right-winger Blake Wheeler said. "We've done some good things four-on-four this year. It wasn't any panic on our bench. We still felt good about our game and our team."

Winnipeg, which surrendered a 4-1 lead before winning 5-4 on Dustin Byfuglien's overtime marker, is now 4-1 in games decided in the extra period.

"They had a couple of bounces go their way," Wheeler said, "but it was great that we were able to respond after that late goal and the big boy stepped up and got us over the hump."

JETTING INTO DANGER? There were reasons to feel good about the Jets' latest win, but there won't be long to dwell on it.

Winnipeg plays its seventh set of back-to-back games this season, visiting the Chicago Blackhawks tonight.

There is work to do in this category. On the second night of back-to-backs so far this season, the Jets are 0-5-1, including losses to Buffalo, Edmonton and Calgary.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2014 B5

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