February 18, 2019

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Record: 36 – 19 – 4

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Winnipeg Jets (36 – 19 – 4)

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Big Buff back just in time

Key Jets D-man returns as Morrissey nurses injury

Byfuglien pronounced himself fit and ready to go after missing 15 games because of a foot injury he suffered on Dec. 29. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)</p></p>

Byfuglien pronounced himself fit and ready to go after missing 15 games because of a foot injury he suffered on Dec. 29. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

Dustin Byfuglien’s return to the Winnipeg Jets lineup would always be a big add, but this week it could be even more timely for the Jets.

The 33-year-old blue-liner pronounced himself fit and ready to go after missing 15 games because of a foot injury he suffered on Dec. 29.

His return could help offset the absence of top-pairing defenceman Josh Morrissey, who left Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot.

“He might be in the lineup tomorrow night,” head coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday of Morrissey, who didn’t practise. “He feels much better today.

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Dustin Byfuglien’s return to the Winnipeg Jets lineup would always be a big add, but this week it could be even more timely for the Jets.

The 33-year-old blue-liner pronounced himself fit and ready to go after missing 15 games because of a foot injury he suffered on Dec. 29.

His return could help offset the absence of top-pairing defenceman Josh Morrissey, who left Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot.

"He might be in the lineup tomorrow night," head coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday of Morrissey, who didn’t practise. "He feels much better today.

"We’ve gotta get him out in the morning skate, and if he feel’s strong enough, we’ll do that."

Following Wednesday’s practice, the Jets flew to Montreal, where they play the Canadiens tonight to open a three-game Eastern Conference road swing.

Winnipeg will finish the trip with afternoon games in Ottawa on Saturday and Buffalo on Sunday.

Byfuglien, who missed nearly six weeks while his team went 10-4-1, said conditioning will not be a factor in Montreal.

"I always feel like I’m in top shape," said Byfuglien, who is in the midst of another productive season, with four goals and 29 points in 32 games. "It’s felt good. It’s been good for a week or so now. So, hopefully, everything just goes good."

Maurice flirted with the idea of playing Byfuglien against the Sharks, but opted for a more cautious approach.

"That was the idea with having him take a couple of extra days to get back on the ice," Maurice said.

"Like I said, I’m not worried about his injury, I’m worried more when guys are out that long — groins, hip flexors — all the things that get strained pretty heavily in a game, but he’ll get right back at it."

Maurice didn’t expect Morrissey’s ailment to have a long-term effect, but he was dealing with Byfuglien’s return combined with Morrissey sitting out.

Expect Byfuglien to resume his usual workload — an average of 24-plus minutes per game in 2018.

"It doesn’t matter where you are in the standings, right?" Maurice said. "There’s a certain level where you’re just not playing a player. When you have some depth on your blue line... that you’re 3-0-1 in your last four (games), that we’ve got good players we can put on the ice and we’re patient with them all now.

"We want to make sure we don’t put a player in harm’s way."

Byfuglien has been impressed with his team’s ability to limit the impact of injuries to key personnel. Left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers has missed 13 games after suffering an upper-body injury Jan. 4.

"When someone like that goes down, it’s never easy to watch him, and last night sit beside him in the locker room," Byfuglien said. "Whoever is gone out of this lineup, we’ve kind of filled it with somebody. Hopefully, I can come in and do the same."

Byfuglien filled some of his down time with one of his favourite pastimes, ice fishing, and admitted time away from the rink hasn’t been wasted time.

"The break’s been actually really good," he said. "Just going to get ready for the back end of the season and go back into it."

His teammates have missed Byfuglien’s gregarious personality.

"It’s been not necessarily quiet, with (Brendan Lemieux) around," goaltender Laurent Brossoit said. "But it’s definitely a little less chatter, and it’ll be nice to get him back. Even on the ice he calms things down for us."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 at 3:39 PM CST: Updates headline

February 7, 2019 at 7:41 AM: Final

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