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Big Buff carrying HEAVY LOAD early in season for Jets

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He likes it so low-key that sometimes any expression or emotion at all causes Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien to be noticed.

Even things like a wide-eyed look or a smirk when something happens on the ice. Or a laugh in the dressing room when he can bear a room full of reporters.

The point being that try as he may, the big man with the big game might blend in only in a forest of redwoods.

So far early in this NHL season, the 6-4, 257-pound (listed) blue-liner has stood pretty tall and as sturdy for a team trying to find its way to respectability.

And another of those can't-help-but-notice moments came Thursday when in conversation about how the first three games have gone for him and the 1-1-1 Jets, Byfuglien revealed -- at least a little -- about just how much and how badly he wants to play.

Byfuglien already leads the Jets in average ice time this season, 27 minutes 9 seconds per game. Across the entire NHL, only Columbus's Jack Johnson and Nashville's Shea Weber exceed that, and only by a few seconds.

The total is higher than Byfuglien's average for 2011-12, which was 24:06 and may show a little how the load for injured defenceman Zach Bogosian is being spread around, even to the team's top pairing.

But the weight the Jets put on Byfuglien's broad shoulders is substantial.

For instance, last season, Andrew Ladd led the team in raw minutes played, 1,604. Byfuglien played just 13 fewer total minutes in 16 fewer games played.

So the question was asked of Byfuglien how head coach Claude Noel and assistant and former NHL defenceman Charlie Huddy will know, while he's taking a breather on the bench, just how much he wants to get back on the ice.

"Do you say anything, maybe make eye contact to let them know?" Byfuglien was asked.

"I'm sure I do at times," he smiled. "It depends on things. I'm usually off and the next group will go and I'm usually right back, so it doesn't really seem like you sit that long.

"If we're killing penalties (which Byfuglien rarely does), if you end up going back to back, maybe then, but I guess by the end, I'm going, '(Bleep) it, put me out there. Get me going here.'

"But most of the time, you don't really think about it, you just play."

That qualifies as a Byfuglien outburst.

He soft-shoed the balance of Thursday's questions, including about the amount he actually does play.

"I guess I really don't think about it," he said. "You just go with the game. You're feeling good and you've just got to play.

"You don't really have a choice either way."

Wednesday, Noel was throwing numerous compliments in Byfuglien's direction -- even a little praise about his conditioning.

"We're happy with him being able to log the minutes he's getting," Noel said. "It's always a question mark but it hasn't been and he's answered that. I think the thing that's important with Byfuglien is that it's not so much the minutes, it's the consistency in his play and I think he's been fabulous in the way he's played as far as consistency."

Byfuglien doesn't seem to mind that even his coach said he's known to be an on-ice gunslinger, but now one that is more reined-in.

"Yeah, I feel it's a lot of hockey but it's something where you're not going to be able to be up in the rush and still put that many minutes in and play as much as you'd want, more or less," Byfuglien said. "Sometimes you have to sit back and let it come to you and you'll still get the opportunities. You just have to pick and choose your spots."

So with a goal and three points in the first three games, Game No. 4 would appear to be more of the same, another night against an opponent with elite talent.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the visitors.

"They're just another player, players, out there," Byfuglien said of the next assignment. "There's nothing different. You play it the same.

"You know they're going to be tricky and it's a matter of having a good gap and not letting them have much room. I think everyone knows who they are when they're out there. I think most of the time you're aware on the ice and how to play them."




Goals 1*

Assists 2

Points 3

Shots 13*

Missed shots 4

Hits 5

Blocked shots 4

Giveaways 6*

Takeaways 2

Ice times: 24:44, 30:27, 26:18. (Avg 27:09*)


Goals 12

Assists 41

Points 53

Shots 223

Missed shots 128*

Hits 112

Blocked shots 57

Giveaways 55*

Takeaways 49

Ice time: Avg. 24:06*

(*leads/led team)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2013 C2

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