Dustin Byfuglien making an impression as defenceman

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Radar goes hot when a player is missing from Winnipeg Jets practice these days, what with the rash of injuries the team has suffered in the last month.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/12/2014 (2780 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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Radar goes hot when a player is missing from Winnipeg Jets practice these days, what with the rash of injuries the team has suffered in the last month.

But Dustin Byfuglien’s absence today was only maintenance and you can expect the force of a defenceman in Wednesday’s New Year’s Eve contest against the New York Islanders at the MTS Centre (4 p.m., TSN3, TSN1290).

In the three weeks that Byfuglien has been sent back to defence to cope with the injury emergency, he has made a big impact with his play. And Jets coach Paul Maurice said that today, nobody, including opponents, should be surprised at what Byfuglien’s doing.

Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press Minnesota Wild Zach Parise (11) on top of Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) during third period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014.

“After they go back and look and see how effective he’s been, well, you go through one or two pre-scouts, it’s there,” Maurice said. “So it’s a function of Dustin, no question. He’s really taken to the things we’re asking him to do, and our game needs to have happen.

“It’s also a function of the forwards not putting our D in a difficult situation. I don’t know where it spans back. Some of it may be style of play, though Atlanta there was a very offensive, motion-driven team which is a real challenge to be good at offensively.

“You need to be able to fit into that and he’s capable of doing that, making those reads… but to play defence in that is very, very difficult.

“I don’t know that anybody does that successfully, so that may be a big chunk of what you didn’t like about his defensive game. It wasn’t just Dustin, it was the whole group’s defensive game because he was playing 26, 27 minutes. And if you’re chasing games, the reaction may be in the past to create more, create more and he’s capable of it so he would do it.

“And there wasn’t a place to value his defensive game because it wasn’t really valued. I’m sure that’s not completely fair but it didn’t look like it from the video. He’s fit into a scheme and been a benefactor and as you get injured guys back you have other people moving the puck the game should get easier for all of them to read.”

One indication of Byfuglien’s effectiveness in his return to being a defenceman is how many opponents he has irritated in the last month.

“His ability to tight-gap because of his physicality is as good as or better than anybody we have on that blueline,” Maurice said. “When he closes on you, there’s not a lot of room to go. I think even maybe some penalties he takes is more the violence of the collision than evil intent. He just goes over you, he’s so big and he’s so strong. But we’re trying to play that tight-gap game, which means he’s going to get into collisions and when you’re that big, you’re going to anger some people.”

The Jets, 19-11-7 after their Monday 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild, are 9-2-4 in their last 15.

The Islanders, 24-11-1 after their home-ice 4-3 extra-time win over Washington on Monday, start a Western Canada road trip with Wednesday’s game here.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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