Byfuglien up front as Jets meet Canadiens

- April 4th, 2013

MONTREAL — The Dustin Byfuglien experiment will continue, at least for the time being.

As the traveling media contingent arrived at the Bell Centre on Thursday morning to watch the Winnipeg Jets morning skate, there was Byfuglien sporting a white jersey, instead of the dark blue one’s worn by the defencemen.

Although the Jets didn’t do any line rushes, Byfuglien is going to play RW with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd.

Several of Byfuglien’s teammates were asked about what the move would mean for their team in the grand scheme of things?

“I don’t know, I guess we’ll see what happens,” said Jets left-winger Evander Kane. “I’m sure he’ll be on the highlight reel for something. I’m excited to see what he’ll do with a whole game (up front). I’m sure it will be exciting to watch.”

I also asked Zach Bogosian what the move would mean for the defence corps?

“He’s an important player on the team and it will be interesting to see how he does up there. He’s had some success (at forward) in the past,” said Bogosian. “As far as us, we have quite a lot of good defenceman on this team and we have to make sure we’re playing good as a group.”

Jets head coach Claude Noel provided a little perspective on the decision itself.

“We’ve been stuck a little bit on the offensive side of the things and we’re trying to get that unclogged a little bit,” said Noel. “He’s a hard guy to move. He’s a hard guy to move in front of the net. He’s a big man and he makes the goalie work. That’s for certain. Those are areas we’d like him to occupy but he’s equally as good in the corner, when he has the puck he protects it well. He’s a hard guy to control in the corner. He can do some things, he’s got a fairly high skill level as well. He can give us some dimensions in different areas.”

The Jets face the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, with puck drop slated for just after 6:30 CT.

In case you missed it earlier, with the Canadiens playing on consecutive nights, backup Peter Budaj gets the call in goal, while the Jets counter with Ondrej Pavelec.

Budaj has been strong when called upon, going 5-1-1 with a 2.47 GAA and .906 save percentage when giving Carey Price a rest.

Naturally, the passing of the trade deadline was a subject that was being discussed with Jets players and to a man, they said they believe in the guys inside the dressing room.

“We’re comfortable with what we have and we know now that this is the group of guys that is going to try to help us get into the playoffs,” said Kane. “We’re going to have to fight our way in there.”

Noel was asked if he thought the potential for moves had any impact (in terms of being a distraction) on the Jets performances over the past few games?

“I don’t believe so, I don’t think that really impacted our team,” said Noel. “There was a lot of noise around the league in other areas, really not a lot in our area. I don’t the results had anything to do with the trade deadline, we just didn’t play that well. We’re having a little trouble playing offence and the other side of that our checking game isn’t that great because guys are pressing. Guys are trying to get stuff done and we need to get back to playing a steady, defensive game.”

Noel bristled when asked why he thought his team was pressing.

“Have you looked at our stats lately? Some guys haven’t scored in a fair amount of time, so that leads to a lot of different things,” he said. “It’s just a natural things, athletes want to have success. On our team, we’ve got a lot of offence from five or six guys, maybe. So those guys feel responsible for a lot of stuff and they take a lot of the burden.”

Another question was fired at Noel asking for his opinion on how the Jets have handled the pressure of the stretch drive so far?

“My sense is it’s not only the losses and it’s not so much the pressure. That certainly has something to do with it. I’m not going to give you a rating of how we’ve done, but obviously the result hasn’t been there,” said Noel. “So that has added to the pressures and the frustration of the game. That’s something we have to overcome, that’s what we’re trying to work through and we’re trying to battle through.

“We haven’t handled it as well as we had hoped, let’s put it that way. But it’s adversity. That’s what you deal with. Adversity makes you stronger.”

The Jets are inserting D Grant Clitsome (eye), RW Mike Santorelli (claimed off waivers) and C Aaron Gagnon (recalled from St. John’s IceCaps) and taking out RW Kyle Wellwood (healthy scratch), C Nik Antropov (injured) and LW Patrice Cormier (demoted to AHL). Derek Meech and Arturs Kulda will also be scratched.

The move of Byfuglien up front and the injury to Antropov has opened up another opportunity for Alex Burmistrov to play in more of an offensive role.

He’ll start the game with Santorelli and Eric Tangradi, who is coming off his best game as a Jet (two assists vs Islanders). Burmistrov might also be getting a shot on the second power play unit with Olli Jokinen and Evander Kane, so keep your eyes on that.

Although the Jets’ top power play unit wasn’t do any work, don’t be surprised to see Byfuglien on the point with Toby Enstrom and Ladd, Little and Blake Wheeler up front. Just a hunch, though. Don’t set that in stone.

It should be interesting to see how Gagnon performs in his first NHL chance this season. He’s been plagued by injuries and a slow start but recently put together an 11-game point streak, producing nine goals and 18 points during the stretch.

“It was a tough year, to say the least. A lot of guys didn’t have the start they wanted,” said Gagnon, who has two assists in 28 previous NHL games. “With me being out with a knee injury for six weeks, it gave me some time to reflect. I knew I had to come back strong and I didn’t want to let the first 25 games define me as a player.

“This is pretty exciting, a great environment to come into in this barn,” said Gagnon. “The (Jets) has lost a few games and hopefully I can help them get back on track here.”

Noel has heard good things about Gagnon’s recent play.

“I’m told he’s played with more quickness than he had last year,” said Noel. “When he came up, he was good in a lot of different areas. A really good dependable player, two-way guy. He plays with speed. We’ll see where he slots himself in. We’ll put him in at centre, but he’s a guy that can move up. He had a struggle in the AHL in his first 40, 50 games but he’s played real well of late.”

Here’s how Noel sees Santorelli slotting in.

“With Mike, he gives us some speed and skill and he’s been able to finish in the past,” said Noel, referring to a 20-goal season on Santorelli’s resume.

At the end of the scrum, Noel was asked about D-man Jacob Trouba, who arrived in Winnipeg on Thursday and will join the team for practice on Friday.

“I’m not dealing with Jacob Trouba right now, he’s not even here. We have enough things right now to deal with, without putting Jacob into this situation,” said Noel. “We’ll evaluate that in due time. It won’t be tonight, that’s for sure.”

The Canadiens will also be without top centre Tomas Plekanec, who is out after suffering a groin injury.

Here’s how we expect both teams to start:

JETS
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Blake Wheeler
Eric Tangradi, Alex Burmistrov, Mike Santorelli
Chris Thorburn, Aaron Gagnon, Antti Miettinen

Defence
Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom
Grant Clitsome, Ron Hainsey
Mark Stuart, Paul Postma

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

CANADIENS

Brandon Prust, Lars Eller, Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher
Travis Moen,Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Ryder
Mike Blunden, Jeff Halpern, Ryan White

Josh Gorges, P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin
Francis Bouillon, Davis Drewiske

Peter Budaj (Carey Price)

Categories: Hockey

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