SUNRISE, Fla. — Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien didn’t exactly ease back into things when he returned to the Winnipeg Jets lineup.
After missing 16 games because of a knee injury, Byfuglien led the Jets with 25:36 of ice time during a 2-1 overtime victory Thursday at Tampa Bay.
Byfuglien will be in the lineup again Friday night against the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, but the Jets will be careful to make sure they don’t ask for too much too soon.
“We’ll watch how he does and how his fatigue factor is, but you know the thing is he’s a big man but he has power,” Jets coach Claude Noel said Friday morning. “I remember talking to the Chicago strength and conditioning guy and he said this guy is just not like the normal guys, he really has power in the way that he conducts things. And you can see that. When the guy goes to hit him, it’s like the guy hit a wall.
“It’s just the way he handles things. He hasn’t skated with us too much but our strength guys have done a reallly good job in keeping his conditioning up and it looks like he’s in a pretty good place.”
Truth be told, the Jets weren’t planning on having Byfuglien log as much ice time as he did in his first game back since Dec. 23.
Byfuglien hit the crossbar on an end-to-end rush in the second period and had an assist on Kyle Wellwood’s overtime game-winner.
“I thought that he managed the game fairly well,” Noel said. “He was really pretty active in the second period, got out there for some long shifts, which is a concern, but I thought his play through the shifts was better than I had anticipated. So when we were watching him we thought, well, you know, he’s doing OK, so let’s just see how we are doing in the third period.”
For his part, Byfuglien said after the game he didn’t feel any rust and would have no problem seeing as much ice time against the Panthers.
“I felt real good,” Byfuglien said after the game Thursday. “A lot better than I thought I would. It didn't take too long to get back in the mix of things.”