Two very important Winnipeg Jets were able to make sure that Paul Maurice‘s coaching debut was a success. Dustin Byfuglien, aka “Big Buff,” had an excellent night with two assists. Additionally, Blake Wheeler added an important goal in the second period that really opened up Winnipeg’s confidence.
Byfuglien and Wheeler are both very important pieces for the Jets. The Jets’ impressive win tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes was definitely a breath of fresh, Artic air for fans in Manitoba. It provided hope for a team that finds itself 10 points out of playoff contention at the moment.
In the NHL‘s Western Conference, this may prove to be insurmountable. However, one of the most passionate fanbases in all of hockey was on display tonight as the MTS Centre celebrated the beginning of life without Claude Noel, who seemed to be clueless as to how to light a fire under his team.
Tonight, Byfuglien and Wheeler were able to lead by example, communicating with younger players as well as very enthusiastically and vocally celebrating every last goal scored in what was a 5-1 blowout. Byfuglien was strong on a Winnipeg defense that allowed less than 20 shots on goal by the Coyotes.
It seemed like the perfect night for the beginning of a new era. The only real missing piece on the Jets was Evander Kane, who is in some ways the face of the franchise, though Andrew Ladd is their captain.
Byfuglien has had his share of struggles on defense this year with a -17, although he does have productive numbers on offense (10 goals, 25 assists). I think that the energy around the team should completely change with Maurice, and whether or not that leads to a playoff spot, it still seems a positive direction in the long run.
Wheeler, a complete surprise selection at forward for Team USA, is clearly headed for the best year of his NHL career thus far. A No. 5 overall pick, Wheeler was probably regarded as somewhat of a bust by the Bruins, who shipped him to Atlanta (at the time) with Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley.
These two leaders will provide integral secondary scoring behind Kane and Ladd as Winnipeg looks to climb back into the race out West.