Record: 52 – 20 – 10
Dustin Byfuglien was in no mood to talk following Friday night's 4-3 win over Buffalo, in which the veteran defenceman finally scored his first goal of the season but declined to do post-game interviews.
And there was a noticeable edge to Byfuglien's demeanour less than 24 hours later as he faced the media following his team's practice in preparation for Sunday's 2 p.m. game in which the Winnipeg Jets (24-11-7) host the San Jose Sharks (21-12-6) at Bell MTS Place.
Byfuglien, 32, made it clear he wasn't happy playing just 17:53 against the Sabres, which included being stapled to the bench for the final 2:50 with his team clinging to a one-goal lead.
"No, I think I should be out there," Byfuglien replied Saturday when asked if he agreed with how coach Paul Maurice deployed his troops. "I would rather play big minutes than sit there."
So has he made his dissatisfaction clear to Maurice?
"Yeah. It's something I think I should be, but they made the decision, and we won," he said.
Byfuglien led the NHL last season averaging 27:26 per night, the highest of his career. Much of that was due to extended absences from Jacob Trouba (early-season holdout) and Tyler Myers (injury) which forced him into an even bigger role.
He came into Friday night's game averaging about 24 minutes a game as the Jets enjoy relative good health and depth this season. Yet he played more than six minutes below that against the Sabres. It's his lowest total in a non-injury game since the 2014-15 season.
A big part was Byfuglien's absence on the penalty kill. Winnipeg fended off five minors Friday night, with Byfuglien seeing just 27 seconds of action during those combined 10 minutes. And with the game on the line at the end, Maurice relied on the pairings of Trouba and Josh Morrissey, and Myers and Dmitry Kulikov, to bring it home.
"It's a different change when you play big minutes to playing that. It's a little harder to stay in the game and stay focused. But when you're killing penalties that's all you can do," said Byfuglien, who has one goal and 15 assists in his 30 games this season.
Maurice had no issue with Byfuglien's comments Saturday, saying it's the kind of reaction he likes to see.
"We’d want everyone to feel that way. We would have everybody who’s not on the ice preferring to be, especially the guys who like to score goals with the goalie out, that’s prime time. Everybody wants that," said Maurice. "I liked the way the other group was playing. I think that’s probably, barring the games he was kicked out of or in the penalty box, that might be the first time he’s under 20 in an awfully long time. It won’t happen too often again. He’ll be alright."
Maurice said it was more about what the four defencemen he leaned on heavily Friday were doing, rather than what Byfuglien wasn't, that was behind his decision in the final few minutes of action.
"It’s a good issue. It really is. You have different players that are going on different nights. Usually you’ll have him there. I prefer bigger men on the ice at the end," said Maurice. "You watch Josh Morrissey’s game, he was playing so very well. And Jake as well. I also thought there was a rhythm to Myers and Kulikov. So I like that."
Byfuglien will have a familiar partner back today as Toby Enstrom returns to the lineup after missing more than seven weeks with a lower-body injury. He'll replace Ben Chiarot in the lineup.
"We’ll go back to rolling six guys. It’s been really good, with the injuries I think it’s gotten Kulikov and Myers to a range and their performance is real high," said Maurice. "It’s not an issue for me. I understand it. I’ve had every defencemen in my office at one point this year wondering how they can get a few more minutes. That’s a real good thing to have."
Maurice said he's still comfortable using Byfuglien in a penalty killing role at times, but didn't do so Friday with his team seemingly on a bit of a recent roll without him there which goes back to the 10-game stretch Byfuglien recently missed due to injury. After a tough start to the year, Winnipeg's penalty killing is now 13th-overall in the league at 81.6%.
"Before we go off on these minutes. I answered a lot of questions about the 27 or 28 he played every single night last year. I think his last game was at 25. And (today) he’s going to play between probably 22 or 25 and that’ll have nothing to do with the fact that I had to answer questions at 17," Maurice said Saturday. "It’s going to be whatever the flow goes. If we take more penalties than we get power plays, his minutes come down. He is going to kill penalties, he and Toby I think are a pretty effective pair. We’re on a bit of a PK run for the most part in our last stretch of games so we’ll just run those guys."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.