Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Struggling club can't wait to be re-Buffed

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GO ahead and spit out all the wisecracks you wish about Dustin Byfuglien casting a considerable shadow.

But also understand this: The big man does leave a size-large hole in the Winnipeg Jets lineup when he doesn't play.

Byfuglien will miss his third straight game Tuesday when the Jets face the Florida Panthers at the MTS Centre and his absence will undoubtedly be noticed. And here's why:

Dating back to last season, the Jets are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games without the big man, 7-10-1 overall.

"There's not many people, if any, in the league who can do what Buff can do and can be as dominant as Buff," said Andrew Ladd. "You're always going to miss Buff when he's out of the lineup. But, saying that, that's another opportunity for other guys to step up. Young guys like Reds (Zach Redmond) and Postie (Paul Postma) can play more minutes and show what they can do."

That was the party line after practice Monday when players and head coach Claude Noel were quizzed about the impact of Byfuglien's absence. And, make no mistake, both Redmond and Postma have shown flashes early this season.

But Byfuglien is a difference-maker. He's not only leading the team in minutes played -- just under 27 per game -- but is a critical component on the power play and penalty kill and a physical force.

The Jets are being secretive about Byfuglien's injury, saying only it happened prior to the Florida game last week while the team was in its off-ice preparations. Noel said again Monday that Byfuglien is listed as day-to-day, and will be out of the lineup for the Panthers game.

"Buff's a good player. He can do a lot of things," said Noel. "He plays a big-man's game, as well, defensively. We miss him, but you move on and it opens a door for somebody else. Certainly we recognize that.

"But we don't dwell on what we don't have here, we try to deal with what we have and go forward with that."

MORE PK ANALYSIS: The Jets continue to dissect what has gone so horribly wrong with their penalty-kill unit over the last three games. The consensus solution? Stop taking so many penalties and start blocking shooting lanes.

"A lot of penalty kill is just confidence," said Mark Stuart. "It's blocking shots, sacrificing, but also your system and having everybody on the same page.

"We scrambled a little bit. In the Tampa game we made a few big mistakes and it was in our net. First of all, we just can't put ourselves behind the eight-ball like that with that many penalties.

"When you're taking that many penalties, especially 5-on-3s... We've had a chance to work on our kill and talk about it. That's something that's going to get better. It hasn't been great. It will get better with some practise."

STREAK BUSTERS? The Jets suffered through three-game winless streaks on five occasions in 2011-12 and had a record of 4-1-0 in the following games. The one time a streak stretched beyond three games, it occurred early in the season when the Jets were 0-3-2 from Nov. 5-Nov. 12, 2011. Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2013 C3

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