Dustin Byfuglien is not the Jets’ captain, but the entire Jets team kind of “goes as he goes” as far as how their play is. Generally, when Big Buff is not playing well, neither are the other 19 men on the roster that night.
Well, if you’ve been paying attention at ALL, you’ll know the Jets have been playing really good hockey lately. So much so that they sit atop the Western Conference and are also tied for 1st place in the ENTIRE LEAGUE.
I’d argue that one major reason for that success lands on the shoulders of Byfuglien. He’s playing great defensive hockey which, while not “exciting” to watch per se, is paying dividends at the other positions.
Connor Hellebuyck is playing solid hockey these days, and not having to worry too much about the rebounds is a big deal. When a goaltender only needs to worry about the shot at hand, it lets him really set himself and be confident about that stop. I’d like to put it to you that Byfuglien is leading the charge on clearing pucks and getting the play out of the danger areas.
I’d also like to introduce the idea that Byfuglien not scoring is a good thing. He’s so focused on his defensive play of late, and really doing the little things right, that scoring is not the first thing on his mind. If he’s helping defend at the back end and being a solid ‘stay-at-home’ type on the blue line in the offensive end, it allows the offensive prowess of his teammates to shine. Scheifele, Laine, Ehlers, Little, Wheeler, etc, etc, etc. Brandon Tanev has 2 goals. Every other forward save for Shawn Matthias (the only Jets forward having played more than 15 games without a tally) has 3 or more.
Byfuglien has not scored this year, but his 11 assists and recent defensive dependability far outweigh that lack of goal production. The Winnipeg Jets have a plethora of productive players in the goal-scoring category, so he clearly does not need to help there.
In my previous Byfuglien-centric article, I said “He doesn’t play the body like he used to, nor does he take that extra stride to get his body in front of a puck, opting instead to take a wild swipe at a puck while it’s in the air, only to miss and have to play ‘chase the forward’ all the way to his goaltender.” My, oh my, has that changed. I wrote that article Oct. 29th of this year, and since then, he’s seemed to really focus on the little things. He’s skating harder, taking that extra stride, getting his body in front of the puck, and generally making smart decisions with the puck when pressured. He looks like he’s actually enjoying himself out there.
One could say there isn’t a lot of weakness on this Jets squad, but for the sake of argument, let’s say you had to pick one player to be the defensive “weak link”. You’d almost have to say Ben Chiarot, wouldn’t you? He’s the least experienced, and plays slightly too offensively for the position, takes the odd poorly-timed and unnecessary penalty, and sometimes tries to outplay his skill level. Chiarot, despite this being his 5th season with the Jets, is still developing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he is paired with Byfuglien, and vice versa. Number 33 has a young, strong player to help mold into the same type of player as he himself.
Based on his play of late, Byfuglien appears to be up to the challenge. It’s good to see him play with the energy and passion he did, even if he has been forced into adapting his playing style to suit the situation.
He’s not putting pucks in the net this year, but he’s putting his team first, and that’s a great thing if you’re one of the other 19 guys who’ve suited up that night.