Defensive duo finds chemistry

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Remember a month ago when Dustin Byfuglien was a forward and Ben Chiarot was in the AHL?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/01/2015 (2777 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Remember a month ago when Dustin Byfuglien was a forward and Ben Chiarot was in the AHL?

Yeah well, they have come a long way. To put it mildly.

Byfuglien and Chiarot teamed up in a defensive pairing for the ages Saturday night at MTS Centre, combining for two goals and four points in a 5-1 thrashing by the Jets of the road-weary Toronto Maple Leafs.

John Woods / The Canadian Press Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) and Ben Chiarot (63) celebrate Chiarot's goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs and his first NHL goal during third period NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday.

How good were Chiarot and Byfuglien? We’ll put it this way — Chiarot’s career night, which included an assist and his first NHL goal, was actually just the second best story on a night Byfuglien was nothing less than the best player on the ice — offensively, defensively and by a wide, wide margin.

Byfuglien set up Winnipeg’s first goal with a great individual effort, scored the third one himself and on defence played with a physical presence so menacing that you could actually see the berth the Leafs players were giving him getting wider and wider as the night went on.

What was seen just a month ago as a temporary move from forward to defence for Byfuglien to cover off a Jets blue-line decimated by injuries by night’s end never looked more permanent.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said a motivated Byfuglien has been playing some of the best — and most disciplined — hockey of his entire career.

“He clearly wants to play defense, so when he got his opportunity, he knew there was a structure there that he had to adhere to. Not just to stay there but for our team to be successful,” said Maurice.

So is all this just an effort by Byfuglien to convince Maurice to make the switch to defence a permanent one for a man who has long said it’s preferred position?

Not so, said Byfuglien. “I want to play forward,” Byfuglien laughed Saturday night. “It’s so much easier — less skating, less work.”

The decision to pair Byfuglien — who plays defence, even in a more disciplined incarnation, unlike almost anyone else — with a raw NHL rookie in Chiarot raised some eyebrows when Chiarot was called up from St. John’s at the start of December as part of the same injury relief that led to the position move for Byfuglien.

But the chemistry of the pairing was almost instantaneous and Byfuglien went out of his way Saturday night to acknowledge what was also a special night for his defensive partner.

“I’m proud of him. He’s really earned it,” said Byfuglien. “He’s had to go through a lot playing with me.”

Chiarot’s two-point night doubled his offensive production for this season — he had two assists in 13 games coming into Saturday night — and his first NHL goal couldn’t have come in more auspicious circumstances for the Hamilton native.

“Scoring against my hometown team on Hockey Night in Canada and the way it went in too — it worked out pretty great,” said Chiarot.

Chiarot’s point-blast was a beauty, ringing the post and then hitting the twine behind Leafs netminder James Reimer. The goal was initially credited to Jets forward Andrew Ladd on a deflection, but a scoring change was announced a few minutes later and the Jets staff had the presence of mind to secure the puck for Chiarot.

“They got it for me and they say they’re going to case it up or something,” said Chiarot. “It’ll be nice to have.”

 

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

 

 

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