It was quite the shock for Winnipeg Jets fans when Dustin Byfuglien played as a forward in the early part of the New Year. Now, over 15 games and a new head coach later, Byfuglien is still taking reps with Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi. With Matt Halischuk and Jim Slater returning from injury, however, Paul Maurice will be forced to make some lineup changes, and moving Byfuglien back to the point might be one of them.
If you told a Jets fan at the start of the season that Dustin Byfuglien would be a forward, they would probably laugh. Now, putting “Big Buff” back on defense seems just as absurd.
It was no secret why Byfuglien moved back to the point: coach (at the time) Claude Noel couldn’t deal with Byfuglien’s defensive errors any longer, and the team was struggling for a physical presence up front. Noel only lasted three more games after that decision, but when Paul Maurice inherited the Jets’ lineup, he kept #33 up front.
Byfuglien’s stats show that this was a good decision all-in-all: He has 12 points in his 16 games as a forward, and with an assist in the Jets’ win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday, extended his point streak to three games. He is playing some of the most physical hockey since the team arrived in Winnipeg, and is all over opposing goalies with upwards of four shots a night.
Byfuglien has boosted the play of both Jokinen and Setoguchi, who have also been playing better as of late. The third-line isn’t one Paul Maurice would go to when a goal is needed, but the trio plays the ‘checking line’ role to near-perfection every night.
Now that the Olympics have passed, Matt Halischuk is ready to return to the Jets’ lineup in the coming days. Halischuk, who was on the third line prior to his injury that kept him out of the lineup for over two months, needs a spot to play in, but Byfuglien poses quite the issue if he moves back to defense.
The Jets won’t be able to deal with Byfuglien’s defensive errors, and playing upwards of 20 minutes a game will not be a good formula for success for Big Buff. Halischuk should slot in with Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn on the fourth line, where Maurice will be able to monitor his ice time, and ensure that he is being worked back into the rotation at the appropriate pace. Maurice had this to say about working Slater and Halischuk back in:
“I have to clear them, too, and I’m still watching them in practice and have to watch them play. My first reaction is that I liked the way our hockey team was playing prior to the break, so those players get the nod early and then we’ll make adjustments as we go.”
Slater was in the lineup for the Jets on Thursday, while Halischuk remains on Injured Reserve for the time being, although he is cleared to play by doctors.
When you have a good thing going such as the Jets, it is important to stay the course, and don’t mess with success. As Larry the Cable Guy once said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Having Halischuk on the fourth line could bring some much-needed depth to the Jets, as they head into the most important 21 games of the season.
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